It’s much better to under-water rather than over-water potted plants
Q : I have quite a few indoor plants and I am not really good at remembering when to water. Any ideas how I could help the plants retain water a bit better? I am trying to improve my watering skills.
A : Many indoor plant owners find their watering skills fall into either the feast or famine categories. They forget to water plants or they stray in the other direction and water too often. A few fortunate ones, no doubt, seem to have that perfect magic timing. Unless you underwater plants until they are wilted, it is still better than too much. Rotten roots can’t be fixed.
Here are few ideas. Switch out plastic pots for clay pots instead. Plastic does not absorb soil moisture. Kiln-fired, unglazed containers, referred as bisqueware, wicks water away from your planting medium through the sides of the container. The water penetrates into the clay and evaporates. Clay pots work more like plants growing outside in the soil. These pots are especially ideal for succulents and cacti, which suffer from soils being too wet.
For leafy plants, cover the soil surface with an indoor version of minimulch. Use sphagnum moss or orchid moss or anything similar to cover the soil surface a couple of inches deep. This will slow top evaporation.
When you water, you do not have to get the moss wet. It is there to act as a barrier, not a water holder. Your plant mulch will also keep slightly damper air around your plant so leaves do not lose moisture as quickly.
Watering plants should be on as-needed basis not by the calendar. But you may want to mark your calendar when you do water so you know when the last time was.
To keep more dampness around plants, they can be grouped together to share humidity. Or you could place them on gravel-covered trays. Water in the trays not touching the bottoms of pots will evaporate into the air. If clay pot bottoms touch the water, they will pull it in — and then you have gone from yang (dry) to yin (wet).
Q : I am just learning about gardening and I have a question about composting in the winter. Is it different from in the summer? What do I need to do to make it work? I would love to get rid of kitchen scraps and have them benefit my garden.
A : “Winter composting” is an oxymoron. One word contradicts the other.
For composting — or decomposition — to take place, you need water to keep the material damp and heat from sunlight. In the winter, water is frozen and there is insufficient heat. What will happen to compostable material is that if it is damp, it will freeze.
But you can still get rid of vegetable and fruit leftovers outside. It will just have to take a time-out until it warms up.
Composting relies on two ingredients: green and brown material. Green is any of the recently living damp materials like what comes out of the kitchen. Brown is dried material like straw, hay, dried leaves or shredded paper. If you are putting materials in a composter, you can toss in shredded newspaper or other paper that is not shiny. Shiny paper has a thin layer of a clay-like material to make it glossy. It does not absorb water very well. Or you could use wood shavings for some needed brown material. Wood chips are too coarse. Smaller, thinner pieces
of anything will break down faster than bigger, thicker pieces.
And don’t feel obligated to throw in egg shells. Almost all of Michigan has an abundance of calcium in the soil, so you are not adding anything needed and it takes a long time for egg shells to break down unless you are whizzing them in a blender.
If you are composting in a pile on the ground, it is possible that material might get dug in by hungry critters, but it is not likely — as long as you do not add meat, fat, bones or grease. This will give skunks and raccoons a real travel destination.
If you cover your pile with a plastic tarp, be sure to put bricks, rocks or cement blacks on the corners so the strong winter winds do not send your cover into the next county.
Questions? MSU Extension Horticulture hotline at 888-6783464. Gretchen Voyle is an MSU Extension Horticulture Educator, retired.