First Flowers

It only took a week above freezing and a few warm rains to coax the ice out of the ground once and for all. Finally, the earth can be turned over and worked. Anyone with a garden can tell you that—they probably spent a giddy weekend with their hands in the dirt. People creep out of their homes and into the sunlight in slowly-growing numbers just to be outside. Just to look.

Still the green holds out on us, but little hints of color are popping up here and there to bring the news of the thawed soil to the surface. The delicate white snowdrops were the first to arrive a couple weeks ago. Now the daffodils and crocuses pop up out of the grass. Violets, tulips, and irises won’t be far behind. These first flowers are a promise: the big blooming is well on its way.

First, as always, there will be more rain. More mud. More cold nights. Spring is still quietly creeping out, and the people in the city are wary. They aren’t gonna greet it ’til its arrival is more obvious. When spring arrives in full sun and full color, you will no longer be alone with nature when you go outside. The bombastic, lively spring that we’re all waiting for could hit any time—and when it does, it’ll bring crowds out in droves. Every restaurant patio will be bustling. Every path through the park will be jammed. For now, let that little bit of light left in the sky at 7:30 be reason enough to take an evening walk. Go out into the quiet world and find those first whispers of spring.

Looking After Houseplants in Wintertime

At this time of year, our houseplants are especially precious. Our homes are sealed tight against the cold of the outdoors. Only our plants breathe life into the stale air.

It’s also this time of year that many of them are most delicate. They’re probably not growing quick as they would in spring or summer, so it can be easy to forget to check on them. It might also seem that since they’re safe and warm inside, they should be treated like they’re not experiencing seasons at all. That’s flat-out wrong. Plants need a different kind of care in wintertime.

Pumping the central heat all winter makes for unnaturally dry air that’s a strain on most plants. Your cacti and succulents might be okay with it, but keep a close eye on everything else—especially if you’ve got anything that hails from the rainforest or jungle. For these guys, you’ll need to either park them near a humidifier or make a habit of misting them with a spray bottle. Bathrooms are usually a great home for plants that crave humidity. You’ll want to consider your individual bathroom before you move any plants in there, though. Since they’re usually one of the smallest rooms in the house, bathrooms might be extra cold, extra dry, or fluctuate dramatically between both when the heat kicks on and off. If that’s the case, you might want to stick to the misting and keep your plants in a more consistently warm room.

Pinpoint the drafts in your house and move your plants out of these danger zones. This doesn’t just apply to the chill creeping in from outside—keep your plants away from blasting heat vents, too. As for the cold drafts, only the most tightly sealed window is a good place for a plant to overwinter. If your windows are breezy, move your plants to a new spot and find them a different source of light. You may need to purchase artificial plant lights to get the job done. Don’t overdo it though—plants don’t need summertime sunlight hours during winter, and some plants don’t like direct light at all. Research your plants’ preferences before you get them settled into a permanent lighting situation.

Just because your indoor plants are safe from the cold doesn’t mean that they don’t need their wintertime rest—even the biggest cacti in the hottest deserts have a dormant season. Let your plants take their winter sabbatical by ceasing efforts to encourage growth. Don’t feed and fertilize plants during winter, and reduce your regular watering schedule dramatically. Most plants will do well if they are watered only when the top inch or two of soil is completely dry. They need a lot less when they’re not growing, and too much water can cause root rot or other disease. To be extra kind to your plants, use room temperature water so you don’t shock their roots with the frigid stuff that first comes out of the tap. By changing the way you feed and water your plants, you let them experience a winter of sorts. This helps them to complete their natural cycles so that in springtime they’ll grow faster than ever or possibly even flower.

Don’t repot during winter unless it’s urgent. Since your plants aren’t growing, it’ll be a lot tougher for them to take root in new soil. You should only repot if the plant is at risk in its current home due to disease, pests, or some other issue with the soil.

51216228_548342269003589_3689981561349865472_nWhen spring arrives and the danger of frost has gone, move them back to the windows.They’ll stretch out in the sunlight and grow again. Until then, nestle them among your pencils, in your bookshelf, on your kitchen table—wherever they need to be to stay warm and get a taste of indirect light. They might not look as photogenic spread helter-skelter, but let their green splendor all throughout the house be a constant reminder of the life all around you. Such is the nature of the wintertime garden.