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Winter Gardening Warms The Heart...
Since half the fun of gardening is the planning and anticipation of what is to come, the winter season provides a great time for this planning. The perspective on gardening changes as one grows older. The word "old" refers to someone who is 10 years or older. And as one grows older their tolerance of cold often goes down. To combat the chilly winters, many mid-western seniors seek refuge in sunny Florida. However, if there are grandchildren and strong family ties, a sunroom may be substituted for a winter home or visit in Florida.

Sunrooms are ideal spaces for gardening. Perhaps the easy way to turn a sunroom into a plant paradise is to shop an arts and craft store for artificial plants that look like the real thing. There is nothing wrong with creating a tropical paradise of artificial plants. This means no maintenance whatsoever. There is no need to worry about fertilizing, over watering, insect pests, pruning, repotting, and all the other work that goes with caring for live plants. Cloudy days and frosty windows do not bother artificial plants! All you need is a feather duster to keep the plants clean.

Don't Feel Guilty
potted plant Potted plants are popular gifts for seniors. They do enjoy plants. But there is a certain amount of maintenance involved in caring for live plants. All potted plants come with a care tag in the pot. Everything seems to go well until the flowers fade or the blooms die. Then it is just another foliage plant. One hates to "pitch" a gift plant, because it does mean something special. Do not let that bother you. Once a plant wears out its welcome, get rid of it. The average life expectancy of an indoor plant is about nine months. If you hang on to plants for longer periods of time, the greenhouse industry will suffer.

Holiday Picks
The number one potted plant in America is the poinsettia. This is actually pretty amazing, because they are only available during a four-week period prior to Christmas. Nevertheless, just about everyone enjoys poinsettias for the holiday season. They will remain attractive for months with proper care. First, cut or punch some holes in the pot wrapper, so the pot can drain. Then place the pot on a saucer to catch the excess water. Place the plant in a bright light location. Keep the soil moist and fertilize every three weeks.

The most common mistake made with poinsettias is the failure to make sure the pot drains. Too much water will rot the roots and the plant will wilt and die. The real reason for the pot wrap is to prevent the water from making a mess at the point of purchase. That pot has to drain!

For some real plant action, purchase and pot up an amaryllis bulb. They range in size from a baseball to softball. The bigger the bulb the more action and flowers they produce. These bulbs are often sold complete with a pot and potting soil (around $6.00, which is a cheap thrill). It is wise to place two inches of sand in the bottom of the pot for stability. The flower stalks typically grow toward the light, which makes the plant off balance. If the potting soil becomes too dry, over goes the plant. The flower stalk is often broken with the fall. So add the sand to the bottom of the pot. It is also a good idea to rotate the pot a quarter turn every day to keep the plant growing straight up. The growth of the amaryllis bulb, once it starts, is going to be fast. From the time the bulb is potted, it takes four to six weeks to flower. The flowers are big and beautiful! When the flowers fade, remove them, and prune away the flower stalk when it yellows, so all that is left are the long,strap-like leaves. Amaryllis bulbs have been known to flower annually for 50 years or more. In order to make this happen the plants have to be fertilized every two weeks for nine months after flowering. Then there is a rest period in a cool, dark location. For $6.00 you can buy a new bulb, so why hang on to the old bulb unless you want the challenge?

seedling plant Seedling Fun
There are a couple of other "grow" projects that are fun for the winter months. Avocados are good for you, and starting a plant from a seed is easy. Simply suspend the seed over a glass of water. This can be done with three toothpicks stuck equal distance around the middle of the seed. The blunt end of the seed goes in the water. Keep the lower inch of the seed in water. In about a month a sprout will emerge from the top of the seed and roots from the bottom. Then transplant the seedling into a six-inch pot of soil. When the new shoot is six inches long, pinch the top. Otherwise, it will grow straight up and the plant will be shaped like a buggy whip. Under houseplant conditions the plant is unlikely to bear fruit, but it does make an attractive, dark green foliage plant.

Another "garbage can" plant project is growing your own citrus orchard. Save the seeds of grapefruit, lemon, or orange and plant them. They will come up quickly. Plant a dozen or more seeds in a six-inch pot for a citrus forest. The large number of seeds per pot will dwarf the plants.

Foliage Fans
If green is your color there are a number of attractive tropical foliage plants that tolerate low light. The winter season is one of low light, because the days are short and the nights are long. This is especially true in Alaska. However, they make up for it in the summer! Low light intensity is a problem for most blooming plants, but foliage plants are very tolerant of winter light conditions.

As a general rule, the darker the green of the foliage, the farther the plant can be placed from the natural light source (window). Deep, dark green foliage plants can be as far away as 10-12 feet from a window. Most blooming plants must be within three feet of a window. Popular foliage plants include: dracaena, Norfolk Island pine and the philodendron. Varieties of these plants are all winners. They have thick, waxy leaves, which makes them tolerant of low humidity, a condition that occurs when you have to heat your home. As a result of the dry atmosphere, the edges of the plant leaves dry and turn brown. The furniture and wooden picture frames dry out and pull apart too, but that's another story. It often becomes necessary to use a humidifier during the winter season to help our skin, furniture, and plants look good.

Be A Dreamer
Gardeners love seed and nursery catalogs. They allow one to dream about the coming growing season. The pictures are always perfect, and this is OK in the dream world. Reality hits, however, when those beautiful "pictures" are planted. Most catalogs are BIG on pictures and short on written information. It is easy to fall into the trap of buying a picture! Do your homework before buying any plant. My favorite catalogs are Burpee, Park Seed, Wayside Gardens, and White Flower Farms. Many catalogs are available on-line. Regardless of where you read them, they are the things from which dreams are made. These catalogs can become therapy and a good way to pass away the winter months and warm your heart.

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"Winter Gardening Warms The Heart... "
   authored by:
Indianapolis gardening guru "Dr. Dirt" (Dick Crum) shares his knowledge and wit every Saturday and Sunday morning on a radio Home and Garden show that is broadcasted from Indianapolis, Indiana. Dick was a longtime horticultural educator with the Purd...

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