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Indoor Gardens — in 8 Easy Steps

Adding greenery to your home is an easy way to beat the winter blues

7. Bug out

Plants are semidormant in winter, but pests are not. If your plants are healthy, insects should not pose much of a problem. Plants under stress may be attacked. If bugs show up, isolate the plant, if possible.

Prevention is best: Examine plants before you buy them. Look for mottled foliage and tiny bits of debris beneath the leaves. Shiny brown bumps on the stems or leaves are scale insects. Cottony masses are mealybugs. You also might find tiny whiteflies, which flutter when plants are disturbed.

Don't freak out if one plant fails — I can honestly say I've learned something from every plant I've killed.

I always try the least toxic cure for any problem first, and never use chemicals as preventives. If you can, take the plant to the sink, then spray and wash its leaves, above and below, with plain water. The washing dislodges bugs when there is an infestation. For larger plants, share a shower with your leafy friend. If critters persist, a drop of dishwashing detergent in a spray bottle of water should be the next step. Mealybugs? Dip an artist's paintbrush in rubbing alcohol and touch the cottony masses to kill them off. As for whiteflies, carefully hold a vacuum cleaner extension over the plants, shake them, then suck up the critters as they fly into the air.

Good air circulation helps plants stay healthy, as they would outdoors. I've been leaving the ceiling fan on low through the winter, and it seems to have reduced the pests considerably. Houseplants also appreciate a drop in temperature at night, so turn down the thermostat; plants are green in more ways than one.

8. Enjoy

Who can say if a single gorgeous potted plant will satisfy your new passion — or whether, like me, you'll find it hard to grow just one. In any event, be smart and buy only what you feel will brighten your days. And don't freak out if one plant fails — I can honestly say I've learned something from every plant I've killed. Soon you and your houseplants will "click." You'll figure out their rhythms and what makes them happy.

You might even want to spread the good fortune and pass along some plants to friends. Nearly any houseplant can be propagated. Your plants are the only treasured collectibles in your home that can be reproduced. Good luck doing that with a Hummel figurine or pewter beer stein.

You may also like: Small cities for a great retirement.

Ken Druse is the author of more than a dozen gardening books and host of the "Real Dirt" radio show and podcast. His most recent book is Planthropology: The Myths, Mysteries, and Miracles of My Garden Favorites.

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