Half Empty/Half Full

Next week is the "glass half full – glass half empty" time of the year for plants.

This year, December 21st is the day with the least amount of sunlight that can find its way into your home – the day being sunny, of course.
 
 But by the 22nd, the days start getting longer and your houseplants can begin to enjoy a few extra "photons" of light with each advancing day. Granted, the journey to longer days is measured in seconds and minutes during December and January but the days do get longer.
 
That’s the glass half full part of the equation. The glass half empty side is that we are faced with a couple of months of days with very little sunlight.
 
So what do you do? There are a couple of strategies. First, move your plants closer to the window, if at all possible. You need to be aware of heat vents that pump-out leaf-dessicating, desert-dry air that will turn leaves from green to brown in no time at all.
 
But even if you manage to dance around the heat vents, the amount of sunlight that hits your plants, at this time of year, is still miserably low.
 
Grow lights are the solution to offsetting any deficiencies in sunlight. Heck, with enough grow lights you could grow coconuts in your house! Granted, you’d need an incredibly tall house, a huge pot, and a blinding array of grow lights but at least the science is solid.
 
Coming back down to earth, a more pragmatic approach would be to choose plants that can endure the shortest days of winter in good shape. Here is my list of tropical plants that are the toughest of the bunch: Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema), ZZ Plant, Sanseveria, and Cast Iron Plant.

All of these plants will grow better with more light (indirect) but they hold their own remarkably well during the short days of winter. Chinese evergreen and Sanseveria have beautiful variegated foliage, whereas both ZZ and Cast Iron are solid green.
 
The toughest of the tough is the Cast Iron plant followed very closely by the ZZ and Sanseveria.
 
Given that it is the holiday season, you might wonder where the venerable poinsettia fits into the low light days of winter scenario. Pretty darn good, in fact. A poinsettia must have high light levels during production, but once it has flowered, it doesn’t need to generate any additional growth. All that it requires – light wise – is some sunlight during the day to keep its green leaves from falling off. If your poinsettia is near a window during the day, it will look fabulous for weeks to come.
 
To be honest, I’m neither a glass half full nor a glass half empty kind of guy during Christmas.
 
 On Christmas day, I prefer my glass completely full, thank-you very much.

~Jim Hole