Garden: Ways to keep plants moist in winter

Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News

Growing plants indoors in winter can be a challenge when the temperatures dip into the single digits.

Lack of sun is always an issue in winter, even for plants in south-facing windows. But lack of humidity is another serious problem. Misting with water is often recommended, but when the furnace is cranking in winter that moisture dries in minutes. A better solution is a pebble tray filled with water. It can be any sort of container filled with pebbles and water to just below the surface of the stones. You don’t want the bottom of the pot to stand in the water or the roots will rot. As the water evaporates the moisture rises increasing the humidity around the plant. The pebble tray should be several inches wider than the canopy of the plant.

While pebble trays may sound less than pleasing to the eye, with a little creativity they can become attractive decorating elements. I’m always on the lookout for shallow containers when thrifting at garage sales and resale shops. A large, shallow inexpensive cut-glass bowl filled with glass gems works with my eclectic country French decor. Those who like the Pottery Barn look might prefer copper trays filled with river stone.

You don’t have to go stone gathering to fill your trays. Decorative pebbles are available at craft and dollar stores, as well as garden centers.

When using well water, run it through a filter before filling pebble trays to prevent minerals in the water from building up on the stones or glass gems. Should that happen, soaking the aggregates and containers in white vinegar will dissolve the coating. Be sure to rinse them well. Vinegar is also good for cleaning copper. Research “how to clean copper” on the Internet for a variety of recipes and methods.

If you were given a miniature rose for Valentine’s Day, be aware this is not an indoor plant. If you can keep it alive until spring, it be can planted out in the garden. Place it near a south-facing window. Cold at night (60 degrees) is what it needs. It may lose its leaves as it goes dormant, so don’t panic. Keep the soil moist and be patient. If it begins to sprout new leaves, fertilize it with a fish-based fertilizer at a quarter strength.

Be aware that what looks like a little bush is probably three or four single rooted cuttings stuck in a small pot, so divide them up when you plant them out in spring, after the threat of frost.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at /homestyle.