In early February you can bring a little spring indoors by "forcing" branches of flowering shrubs such as forsythia, pussy willow (remove the pussy willow bud’s outer husks), honeysuckle, and fruit trees such as cherries, pears and apples to bloom ahead of time.

How do I keep my houseplants healthy in winter?

Lighting, temperature, water, humidity, soil condition and foliage cleanliness are all important factors in keeping houseplants healthy in winter. 

Check the light your houseplant is receiving. Days are shorter in winter, so you may need to move the plant to a brighter location or provide some artificial light. Most houseplants are tropical or semi-tropical, so keep day temperatures 60 to75 degrees Fahrenheit and evening temperatures above 50 degrees. To prevent cold or heat damage, move plants away from cold window sills and drafts, and away from heating vents or radiators.

Some plants prefer their soil to dry out, while others like moist soil. Pay close attention to any dramatic changes in the soil condition, as water may evaporate more quickly due to the warm, dry interior heat. Brown leaf tips or insect problems can be a sign of being too dry. To increase humidity, group plants close together, put out bowls of water, or place pots on shallow trays filled with pebbles and water.

Houseplants "rest" during the winter, so do not fertilize them until March or April.

Dust that collects on plant leaves inhibits their ability to breathe and will slow plant growth. Rinsing the plants in the sink or shower with slightly warm water improves their appearance, removes the dust, provides moisture, stimulates growth, and may help control insects and mites.

I’ve heard you can make branches from spring flowering shrubs bloom indoors in winter. Please tell me how to do this.

In early February, you can bring a little spring indoors by "forcing" branches of flowering shrubs such as forsythia, pussy willow (remove the pussy willow bud’s outer husks), honeysuckle, and fruit trees such as cherries, pears and apples to bloom ahead of time.

Wait until late-February/early-March to force crabapples, beautybush, redbuds, magnolias and spirea as they require longer winter dormancy. Forced buds take from one to six weeks to open.
When it’s 32 degrees or above outside, using a sharp hand pruner, cut the branches with flower buds you’d like to force. (Flower buds are plumper and fuller than leaf buds). Prune selectively to preserve the natural shape of the tree. Make clean, angled cuts. Branches can be cut from 6 to 18 inches long.

If the cut branches are frozen, submerge them in lukewarm water for a few hours. Before you put the branches into a display container or vase, gently smash the branch ends to make it easier for the branch to take up water. To begin the forcing period, place the container in a dimly lit, cool location. Change the container water daily to prevent growth of bacteria and fungi and mist the branches daily. When the flower buds start to open, move the branches into a cool bright room and enjoy a little spring!

Contact Judy Eisenberg at SunandShadeGardening@comcast.net. Eisenberg has been gardening and consulting professionally with a personal touch for more than 10 years.