Gray outside, green inside

Published 8:56 pm Thursday, November 4, 2010

Deborah Baker, an employee at ABS Greenhouses since 1995, goes through houseplants in one of the many greenhouses. The business was founded in 1973, and largely sells wholesale, but has greenhouses full of houseplants for individual sales, as well. ABS Greenhouses is located at 4148 Godwin Boulevard and can be reached at 255-4148.

Just because the fall chill is beginning to settle in and outdoor plants are beginning to become dormant doesn’t mean you have to settle in for a long, gray winter.

Bring some life to your winter by keeping your home stocked with houseplants.

“People like to be close to nature and this is one way to do that, especially when fall comes,” said Gary Berard, owner of ABS Greenhouses. “There’s a lot of pleasure that comes from caring and nurturing a living thing and watching how nice it looks.”

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ABS Greenhouses, located on Godwin Boulevard, has been in operation since 1973. While it is largely wholesale, the business also sells hanging baskets, indoor plants and dish gardens direct to customers.

“We mostly sell wholesale, but we probably have one of — if not the most — extensive supplies of house plants in the area,” said Eric Berard, Gary’s son who works at the shop.

The nursery has more than three greenhouses full of plants ready for sale and four more greenhouses with growing plants.

Gary Berard reminds customers that while a houseplant may be indoors, they go through seasons like any other plant. While the weather fluctuations are less extreme than if the plant were outdoors, there are some adjustments to watch.

Most plants simply will slow down in growth. Other, more rare, seasonal changes could include halted growth all together, the loss of leaves or dying back to the top of the soil.

Most plants simply take a break from growing, which is difficult to notice and doesn’t require much change in care.

“You don’t have to make too many changes, but be aware that in winter months your home will be warmer and there’s less humidity in the air,” Berard said.

As a general rule, the larger the leaves are, the more water the plant will need.

Because the worst thing you can do to a houseplant is to overwater it, Berard recommends watching one houseplant that wilts the fastest. Every time it begins to wilt, water it and the others.

“You should also pick up the plant to see how heavy it is,” Berard said. “That way you’ll be able to tell how much water is still in the soil and when it needs to be watered again.”

Don’t forget to water houseplants that lose all of their leaves for the winter. Deciduous plants are dormant when they have lost their leaves, but they are still alive. Almost no water is needed, but a few drops on occasion are necessary for the plant to live.

While water is the lifeblood for plants, placement is important to ensure it is getting sun and not being damaged by other factors.

“You want to try and place them by southern or western facing windows and keep them away from vents that are constantly blowing heat,” Berard said.

When your plant is not actively growing, it doesn’t need as much fertilizer or water.

Gary recommends using Osmocote fertilizer, which releases a little bit of fertilizer each time the plant is watered and can last up to three months.

Plants like lilies, begonias and caladiums will die back to the soil when they are ready to go dormant. When you see the plant begin to die back, reduce watering and cut out the fertilizer. Once the plant has died back to the soil, cut off the dead portion and dig up the bulbs, corms or tubers. Set these out to dry or “cure” for about a week. Once they are dry, pack them in a paper bag and store somewhere cool and dry, such as a refrigerator, until you plant them again in the spring.

Berard recommends saving any re-planting of houseplants for the spring, when the transition will be more tolerable to the plants.

A final trick that Berard recommends for houseplant owners is to shine their leaves.

“We have a special polish that we use on ours, but we always polish all our leaves on our plants before they’re sold,” Berard said. “It makes a world of difference. You can get so used to looking at plants that if you’re not aware of it, they get dull-looking. Clean them off, and it’s unbelievable what it does.”