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Get growing: Time to shower house plants with TLC

Windowsills and sunny rooms are now filled with house plants brought inside from the deck or porch. It’s time to look them over carefully to assure you didn’t bring in insects and diseases.

Review each one individually by doing some judicious pruning of dead and dying leaves and flowers. If there are roots emerging from the drainage hole, repot. Give the plant a shower. I dunk the leaves and stems of most plants in the kitchen sink filled with soapy water (Ivory is best). Then I set them on the kitchen counter for 10 minutes to half an hour. Finally I rinse it. This removes most insect eggs and just plain dust. Plants like African violets with fuzzy leaves are less happy with this kind of treatment, however.

If a cloud of white flies rises when you pick up a plant, invest in a yellow sticky trap to monitor infestations. Check the yellow card daily and plan to repeat your kitchen sink routine often if you find dead insects stuck to the trap. If the infestation continues, you better throw the plant out. Yellow sticky traps are standard equipment in greenhouses of all sizes.

Mealy bugs are a terrible menace. They look like bits of cotton stuck in the branches of certain susceptible plants. A few years ago I lost all my streptocarpus plants to this scourge. I’m told by local greenhouse owners that mealy bugs are on the rise in southern greenhouses that supply our retailers. So be on the lookout for trouble. A cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol will usually finesse the infestation — if caught early. Scale on ivy can be treated the same way and is just as persistent.

“Right plant, right place,” the mantra for garden plants, is a good rule for house plants, too. Ferns can thrive in a north window but a hibiscus needs sun, a hard commodity to provide in the deep of winter. When buying new house plants consider the conditions you can provide. Some plants love a cool setting but African violets aren’t among them. Instead try azalea or cyclamen. Remember the humidity needs of house plants as well. Place pots on saucers with stones, mist daily or run a humidifier. Begonias, however, don’t like misting.

The biggest cause of failure with house plants is inappropriate watering — usually overwatering. Before you pour water onto the soil, check the pot with your finger. Most plants prefer the top soil to be slightly dry before getting a bath again. And never leave the pot sitting in water — that just begs for root rot. Don’t neglect your plants so that they wilt, but err on the side of dryness instead of risking overwatering.

When plants like Christmas cactus finish blooming, find an out-of-the-way window for their winter home rather than cluttering sunny windows in your main living area with too many plants. I’ll actually be glad when my cacti finish blooming (they are in full flower right now) so that I can more easily access the other specimens in my plant room. The cacti will spend the winter in an unused bedroom with good sun.

A good house plant display through the winter brings a memory of summer and lifts the spirits. Even if all you have is one Boston fern, that greenery will make January seem much less dreary.

NATURE WRITING: Relax and unlock your creative voice about nature and the environment in a writing workshop tomorrow from 10 a.m. to noon at Nasami Farm in Whately. Erica Wheeler will lead the workshop at the nursery and education center of the New England Wild Flower Society. The fee is $30. Register online at www.newenglandwild.org.

ORCHIDS IN ECUADOR: Jean Stefanik will give a slide lecture on “Orchid Travels in Ecuador” Sunday at 2 p.m. at Munson Library in South Amherst for the monthly meeting of the Amherst Orchid Society. At 1:30 p.m. Keith Tibbetts will discuss growing vanda orchids. The event is free and open to the public.

WREATHS: Elizabeth Cary offers a hands-on workshop, “Wreaths from the Wild,” at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge on Nov. 28 from 1 to 3 p.m. The fee is $45 and you will construct and take home an evergreen wreath with natural adornments. Register by calling 298-3926.

LANDSCAPE DESIGN: An information session for prospective students at the Conway School of Landscape Design will be held Dec. 1 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Participants will learn about the unique 10-month graduate program in sustainable landscape planning. The program focuses on regenerative design, conservation planning and ecological restoration.

The information session will include presentations by faculty, students and alumni as well as a site walk with an ecologist. Lunch is provided. The Conway School is at 332 South Deerfield Road in Conway. To reserve a space email Mollie Babize at babize@csld.edu or call her at 369-4044 or 369-4045. More information is available at www.csld.edu/admissions/visit/information-sessions/.

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