A little care keeps dormant houseplants growing all year round

After you have collected the beautiful houseplants that make up your indoor garden, you have hurdles to leap if you want to keep them that way. You must continue to provide proper soil, water, sun, temperature, and ventilation to create the right environment for your plants. Meeting these challenges isn't too difficult.

Nonetheless, many indoor gardeners who do well on these points fail to deal properly with dormancy.

If possible, try to provide god care for the plants that have suffered damage , become dormant, or simply are not at a beautiful stage after severe pruning.

Apartment dwellers and some gardeners with limited space may have to discard waning plants, give them to understanding garden friends, or arrange to have the plants rest in a friend's basement.

Many gardeners who can shrug off the trauma of repotting, fertilization, pruning, and debugging plants fail to understand the changes in the life cycle of a plant. The period of dormancy in outdoor plants, shrubs, and trees is easy to see and the winter "rest" is taken for granted.

The dormancy of a houseplant is much more subtle. It usually involves a general slowing of growth. You may not realize that you must treat the dormant plant in a different manner.

Dormancy in outdoor plants is brought about abruptly with a change of seasons or environmental conditions. An example of this is the loss of leaves on deciduous trees that grow in the North. Huse plants usually come from warmer climates where dormancy is brought on by decreasing rainfall or increases in temperature.

Because houseplants are not subjected t these environmental changes, their dormancy is limited and sometimes nonexistent. You must learn to recognize the signs of dormancy -- and even force dormancy on plants that need to rest.

During the months of December, January, and February the days are short. This provides an excellent time to reduce the amount of water and fertilizer which your plants have been taking. Resting plants can be damaged by too much water and fertilizer because they do not use as much water or nutrition.

If you are using artificial light, it, too, should be decreased.

All plants have a sense of timing all their own. If a plant appears to go into dormancy other than the winter months, respond by reducing the amount of water and fertilizer. A plant simply cannot remain at its peak eternally. Given a rest, most plants will last for years.

Perhaps you have wondered why your Christmas cactus failed to bloom at Christmas or why it bloomed at Easter time instead. The Christimas cactus and some other plants have a very sensitive response to the relative lengths of day and night.There are long-day plants, short-day plants, and those that blossom under a wide range of day lengths.

The time of blossoming in many plants is also affected by temperature. Fortunately, most houseplants fall into the category that will blossom or thrive in a wide range of day lengths and temperatures.

My Christmas cactus failed to bloom one year when we decided to leave the hall light on all night. The cactus was in the hall near a west window. Being a short-day bloomer, we had failed to provide the necessary darkness during the critical period.

Houseplants are like people. After working hard all winter, they look forward to a summer vacation. They have brightened our dreary winter with blossoms or elegant foliage. They, too, require rejuvenation or rest so as to start a winter with fresh vigor.

Many houseplants will rest well out of doors during the summer. Some plants, such as African violets and all those with soft leaves, should remain indoors. Houseplants that are placed out of doors for a summer rest should be put in places that are similar to their indoor environment.

Oxalls, shrimp plant, and geraniums are a few of the plants that benefit greatly by a summer vacation in the garden. Others -- amaryllis, fuchsia, gloxinia, caladium, Christmas cactus, other cacti, Easter lily, and other lilies -- require special handling to provide proper dormancy.

When amaryllis flowers have faded, it is time for the plant to rest. Do not remove any leaves because they provide food for the nest year's bloom. Fertilize every two weeks and put the pot outdoors during the summer. In the fall, bring the pot indoors and decrease the water until the leaves turn yellow and dry.

Store the pot in the basement and water it once a month so the bulb doesn't shrivel. Replace the top third of the soil and begin the cycle in December by watering it regularly and providing sunlight.

Gloxinia rest in much the same way except that they are not planted outdoors but put into the basement after the blossoms fade. Water them in a cool basement two or three times during the 6-to 10-week dormancy period. Then repot , increase watering, and bring the pot to the sunlight.

Fuchsias can be made to rest during the winter by keeping the soil somewhat drier and the winter temperature at about 50 degrees F.In October and November cut some of the top growth back. Repot the fuchsia into a container which is one size larger if you wish to increase its size. If not, repot it into the same pot.

In January begin watering sufficiently, mist the leaves daily and provide plant food weekly.

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