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Winter Rest and Houseplants

by Lisa Davis, Collin County Master Gardener

As a child, I use to watch reruns of the television show, “Baretta.” I was so impressed with the show’s cockatoo, that I wanted one of my own. Armed with a library card, and the hubris of youthful ignorance, I was convinced I would have the patience and expertise to teach that bird how to talk, sing and do tricks. Since the final decision was left up to my parents, I would have to settle for a parakeet. Was I thrilled? No! The only thing my parakeet would have in common with that cockatoo was the same last name. Unfortunately, my Mr. Fred’s weak constitution would prove to be no match for our harsh Midwestern winters. Of course, leaving his cage uncovered, near a drafty window, probably did not help matters. Nevertheless, after Mr. Fred’s untimely demise, I would eventually limit my bird aspirations to Toucan Sam, on the Froot Loops cereal box. 

Since moving to North Texas three years ago, harsh winters, with sub-zero temperatures, have become a thing of the past. Nevertheless, when it comes to having house plants, the winter months can prove to be challenging. Shorter days mean fewer hours of natural sunlight. Cooler temperatures results in more time spent indoors with less humidity in the air. However, this is also the time in which plants enter into their dormant season which is also known as “winter rest.” During the spring and summer months, the growth of my houseplants is quite robust. However, as soon as the temperatures starts to drop, so does my “pride of ownership,” as I watch one of my favorite plants struggle to stay alive. 

My plant equivalent, of Mr. Fred, is the Hypoestes Phyllostachys. It’s more commonly known as the polka dot plant. Whereas it’s one of my favorites, it’s also the plant I’m most likely to prematurely usher into the afterlife! Although this plant is purported to be low maintenance, during its dormant season it can be anything but that. Fortunately for me, I thrive on challenges.  

Image courtesy of Urban Garden Center

In closing, both my master gardening training, along with trial and error, has been my best instructor when it comes to caring for houseplants during the winter months. Winter rest is applicable to my plants, not me. Slow growth, along with an occasional dropped leaf, notwithstanding, much activity is taking place beneath the soil. As a result, monitoring the quality of water intake, room temperatures, along with access to natural and/or grow lights, can determine if my beloved polka dot plant—aka Mr. Fred—will be around long to see the blossoming of springtime!     

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