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House gets crowded in November

There used to be way too many houseplants for the number of sunny windows at Dirt Cottage.

Now there is one ancient jade plant on the table in the front hall, a lucky bamboo in the office and a few hardy peace lilies that have come from starts separated over the years from one original.

This time of year, indoor plants need little or no fertilizer and less water than they need during the spring and summer: You want them to be healthy but not grow leggy.

In November:

•I pull out all-purpose, sturdy Fiskars scissors and give each plant a good going-over. Clip off every leaf with a brown tip, that’s a little yellow, a bit puny.

•Check the surface of the soil. If watering over time has left a depression, get a little potting soil and spoon it into the hole.

•How is the soil moisture level? It should feel like a sponge that was wet and then thoroughly squeezed dry. To judge, wiggle your index finger down into the dirt an inch or more.

•Furnaces tend to make the air dry. I like to put my plants on top of pebbles or marbles arranged inside a waterproof tray or plate that is several inches wider than the bottom of the pot. Instead of watering the plants too often, “water” the tray or plate at least once a week and the plant itself no more than once a week.

•Consider using spare vases this time as water vessels that help put moisture in the air. Fill them with tap water and tuck them into nooks and crannies. I like to take clippings from plants that are getting a little leggy, strip off any leaves that would be under water and plunk them in. I’ve had luck rooting coleus, geranium, ivy, peperomia, pothos and spiderplant babies near sunny windows.

•If a plant begins to drop a lot of leaves, you might be watering it too much – or it might just need more light. If you check the soil, and it does not feel too damp or bone dry, then your little darling probably needs a little more light. A south-facing window is a good bet, and a west-facing exposure might get decent sun in the afternoons.

•If you have a plant that you love in a place where there is not enough light, go to a local plant nursery or hardware store and ask what kind of artificial light would work best. If the light annoys you, turn it on when you leave the room and turn it off when you come in. Or put it on a timer if it’s a room that doesn’t see much action in winter.

•Because most of my plants spend the summer outside, their clay pots go into a cachepot – which is a fancy name for a decorative container that hides whatever pots the plants are actually growing in.

Penny-pinching hint: Mine started life as brass or wicker trash containers in someone’s office or bathroom and came to me via garage sale.

Anne Gregory is a garden putterer, not a gardening expert, and writer and editor. Garden photos (JPEGs, please) and tips may be sent to (please put “The Dirt” in the subject line) or 600 W. Main St., Fort Wayne, IN 46802.