How to water African violets correctly | THE COMPLEAT HOME GARDENER

Marianne Binetti answers questions about watering African violets and keeping poinsettias alive.

The end of December brings questions about houseplants and gift plants. It is also a time to remember to respect the garden and landscape during the winter months.

For example, do not use salt pellets on frosty walkways. The salt can be washed into the soil and will damage plants. Use sand or kitty litter instead to provide traction.

Try not to walk on a lawn that is frozen or covered with frost as this can damage the soil structure. On very cold days it is best to go dormant when it comes to working the soil.

Research plants, draw out ideas for new designs, and start a list for new seeds and annuals you want to try. Winter is when every garden holds the promise of perfection and improvement when the growing season arrives.

Q. My African violet houseplant has light spots on the foliage. It is not just the old leaves that are spotted but also the new younger leaves so I don’t want to pull them off the plant. The plant is still blooming and I see new buds so I don’t want to toss it out. M.M. email

A. How do you water your African violet? This houseplant has hairy leaves and drops of water spilling on the surface will leave light spots — especially if the water is cold from the tap.

African violets prefer to be watered from below. This means you can sit the thirsty plant in a saucer of water for a few hours and it will suck up water from the drainage holes in the pot. When you see the top of the soil turn dark with moisture you will know the plant has had enough water.

Spotted leaves could also be a sign of a leaf blight or fungal infection. Improved air circulation and good drainage will help to discourage any fungus among us. If you water below and the plant continues to suffer then don’t feel guilty about tossing out a diseased houseplant.

Q. Help! The big old jade plant I was given by a friend (she is moving) is starting to wilt and drop leaves. I do remember to water and I do know not to let a jade plant sit in drainage water. Should I fertilize to make the plant healthy? N.O., Maple Valley

A. No. Fertilizer will not help a wilting plant. My best guess is that you are watering too much. Jade plants are succulents that store moisture I their fleshy leaves. They do not need any extra water during the dark days of winter when they slip into dormancy. Really, don’t water your jade plant at all November through January.

Plants also wilt and drop leaves from not enough water but succulents such as your jade plant are more likely to wilt from root rot and too much moisture than from not enough water. Give your jade plant a location near a bright window in a warm room and it may recover.

In spring you can cut back any leafless branches by two thirds their length and this could stimulate new growth and rejuvenate a jade plant. Jade plants are said to bring good luck to their caregivers – so good luck to you at saving your plant.

Q. My poinsettia plants always seem to live for months after Christmas. I love them during the holidays but don’t know what to do with them after that. I feel so guilty dumping a perfectly healthy plant into the garbage. Any clever suggestions? S. email

A. Poinsettias can be cut up and the blooms used for indoor arrangements or even short lived corsages at a New Years Eve party. Just be aware that some people are allergic to the milky white sap from the cut stems.

You can donate the plants to a care center or nursing home (ask first if they are welcome) or just set your poinsettia outdoors for the afternoon, forget to bring it inside for the night and the cold weather will finish it off. Then you won’t feel guilty at all about dumping the frozen plant into the garbage or compost pile.

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