It’s at this time of year when our gardening moves seamlessly from the outdoors to the indoors, and I don’t blame anyone for that! In the depths of winter it is not usually conducive – both in terms of the temperature and the available light – to spend much time out of doors.
So, to get our gardening ‘fix’ during the coldest months, our houseplants often get much overdue attention. Most houseplants will thrive in a well-lit, draught-free spot with an even temperature and reasonably high humidity. However some plants have specific needs.
For example, plants grown for their flowers (such as African violets, poinsettias and cape primroses), and those with variegated foliage, generally need more light than plants with plain green foliage. Indeed, most ferns prefer a darker position. Orchids and carnivorous plants like a bright windowsill, but they hate the heat of direct sun in summer, where they can burn to a crisp.
When it comes to feeding, people often get confused. But they shouldn’t be. Many plants will grow without feeding (orchids can go for long periods, as can bromeliads, carnivorous plants and bulbous plants), but most flowering plants are very hungry, and will do best when given a weekly dose of liquid feed – even at this time of year.
I use Westland Houseplant Feed. You can buy a 250ml bottle of concentrate, and it can make a whopping 25 litres of feed – to last you many months.
The mixture is high in potassium (to help flowering), and it is relatively high in nitrogen (to encourage healthier foliage). Dilute 10ml of the concentrate in 1 litre of water, and then apply it around the base of the plant, to thoroughly wet the compost.
Many people say you shouldn’t feed plants in winter, but I think this is wrong. For example, if a plant is in poor condition, then you should give it a liquid feed straight away. Why wait for it to get any worse? Also, with our centrally heated homes these days, plants often do not stop growing. And feeding a winter-flowering houseplant can encourage blooms to keep coming.
If a flowering plant is getting dry, give it a little bit of liquid feed every time you water it. The plants will repay you by flowering for longer, looking much better and, ultimately, by not dying!
Liquid feeding is probably the best method of feeding houseplants, as it supplies the right amount of food over the whole of the root system. If you have allowed the compost in the pot to completely dry out, water the plant normally before watering in the feed: this gives a better distribution of feed.