Houseplants are Alaska’s way of gardening during the winter. Make your collection something special.


Most of the people reading this column are gardeners. Gardening doesn’t end in winter. Indoor plants matter. Now is the time to build your collection and grow – not just maintain – houseplants.

It always makes me happy to see every parking spot in the local nurseries full. This is what happens around Memorial Day, when we all rush to get started. This confirms to me that Alaskans really love gardening. Some nurseries even have traffic jams because they are very busy.

Did we all flock to the nurseries in equal numbers at this time of year. It would be indicative of our love of houseplants. We don’t, however. I realized that this has nothing to do with the popularity of houseplants. Instead, it’s a statement about how we approach indoor gardening versus the outdoors.

For some reason, we don’t think of taking care of houseplants like gardening. Instead of cultivating, we care for houseplants. Too few of us use decent lighting systems, to use last week’s wise words. And we’re happy with the static way our houseplants survive. When it comes to houseplants, we believe we can keep them in “maintenance mode” forever.

Just look at your own collection. When was the last time you repotted your houseplants? When was the last time you started one? And, more importantly, when was the last time you bought new houseplants? It’s easy to be happy with the plants you first bought in the house, but you’re not really growing anything.

We can do better, and for the sake of our sanity, we really should be doing it. It’s a good weekend to start. All you need to do is take an inventory of the houseplants you are maintaining. Then take whatever steps are necessary to make them truly thrive and grow again.

To begin with, discard plants that are beyond repair. We all have them. You know who I’m talking about. For example, those with scales, powdery mildew or even white flies. Then there are those plants with few leaves or those that have not produced new ones for years. You know those who will never get over it. Throw them away.

I know it is difficult; many Alaskans are literally plant collectors and could be the subject of a TV show. Some people cannot bring themselves to throw a plant in the trash, regardless of its condition. Add to that that an ex-boyfriend gave you that naked poinsettia or that your struggling ficus came from your grandmother’s house in Mississippi. If you really want to save a destroyed plant, take a cutting.

After you’ve cleared up your collection, clean up the remaining plants. Remove dead leaves and stems. Trim properly. Stitch if necessary. Make sure the soil – and the pot – is salt-free, uncompacted, and well-drained.

Then I know we are entering the winter months and the “experts” advise leaving the plants dormant, but if your plant needs to be repotted, do so. Use fresh, living soil – organic and full of germs. Make sure the new container has adequate drainage. And don’t use putty on the bottom of the pot, just dirt.

Finally, and this is really the point of the column, consider getting some new plants. No, don’t just consider – buy new plants. We are in a window of days above the freezing point which makes their transport easier, and with the transition of summer plants, the selection of plants right now in nurseries and local plant services is good.

If you have lights – and all of my readers have them – then you can choose from what is available; that’s another reason to have grow lights. There are cacti, succulents, African violets and gloxinia, which you know. If you walk through the flowery spaces, you will discover a multitude of new plants that you might never have seen. Read their labels and select the ones that match your requirements. Keep on going. Modernize your collection.

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar:

Wreaths & Centerpieces: Workshops at the Alaska Botanical Garden in November will teach you and your kids how to use garden supplies for holiday decorations. Visit and reserve space.

Chrysanthemums: This is the fall “poinsettia” season. They are for sale, in buds and flowers, everywhere. It’s a great houseplant, albeit short-lived, for the fall. I like to buy plants that have not yet fully flowered, as their displays will last longer.

Move the plants: the heat is on and you may need to adjust where you grow your houseplants. Do not be too long.

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