When winter keeps you housebound, surround yourself with a few houseplants for an indoor garden. The plants help clean the stuffy, stale air that your heating system pumps out and they give you something pleasant to focus on.
Long-blooming cyclamen, available in the greenhouses at local garden centers or from florists, is always nice this time of year because it comes in Valentine red and pink, or snow white. Miniature roses, African violets and orchids are prolific bloomers that require minimum care and space.
Regardless of what you choose to grow, houseplants need a little something from you, too.
Watch the water. Too much or too little water is often why houseplants perform poorly — or die. Lower yellow leaves that turn yellow and drop are a clear sign of too much water; leaf tips that turn brown indicate too little water.
Let the soil stay a little on the dry side during winter; insert your finger to feel dryness about an inch below the soil's surface before you water. Never let soil pull away from the edges of a pot before you water because it will run down the sides and not saturate the soil. Never let a plant pot sit in a saucer of water because it absorbs salts that can burn roots.
Your plants will love you best if you put them in a shower, saturate them thoroughly and then let them sit there to drain.
Up the humidity. The air in your house is typically very dry during winter, so houseplants appreciate any extra humidity you can give them. The easiest way is to sit pots on a tray of decorative pebbles covered in water; avoid letting the pots sit in that water because you just want the water to evaporate into the air around them. Frequent misting also helps. Succulents require no extra humidity. Brown leaf tips and margins are signs of low humidity.
Light up life. Most houseplants thrive in east or west windows. Direct sun through a window can cause bleached spots on leaves; spindly growth means a plant needs more light.
Feed them sparingly. Reduce your fertilizing routine during winter, mixing water-soluble fertilizer at one-fourth strength and apply with each watering. Brown leaf margins can happen if you use too much fertilizer.
Patrol for pests. Use a damp cloth to regularly wipe foliage — especially underneath — to prevent pests, remove dust and improve humidity. Neem oil can be safely used indoors to remove a bad infestation but regular showers usually do the job.
Search for skunk cabbage Join the John Clayton Chapter, Virginia Native Plant Society when Williamsburg landscape architect Phillip Merritt leads a search for the winter blooms of skunk cabbage at 10 a.m. Saturday at Longhill Swamp at 4451 Longhill Road, Williamsburg.
One of few plants that bloom in winter, skunk cabbage is properly named because all of its parts, when crushed, smell like skunk, according to native plant experts. Growing in swamps and moist low ground, the flowers appear first, in a knob-shaped cluster inside a purple-brown and green mottled hood two to five inches long. Flowers generate enough heat to melt any snow around them; biologists say the flowers produce warmth for 12 to 14 days. The first pollinating insects of the year, usually flies, are attracted to its heat and foul smell. The plant's large oval leaves look like cabbage, and can grow three to four feet long. By mid-May, a wetland can be covered with skunk cabbage leaf rosettes. By June, the leaves decay and then dissolve. In August, the fruit heads fall apart and by end of summer there is no trace of the plant, only its massive root system remains. The plant, native to Virginia, is found throughout the state.
Hot drinks and refreshments will be provided during the walk. Register and get directions at email@example.com or call 604-1026.
Earn some green• If you or anyone you know wants to earn extra money with lawn-care or landscaping business, the new "How to Open & Operate a Financially Successful Landscaping, Nursery or Lawn Service Business" may be the book you need. It outlines day-to-day operations and includes sample business forms, contracts, work sheets and other tools of the trade. Softback with 288 pages; $40.
•You can also learn how to boost your income during the "Getting Started in the Greenhouse Business School" Feb. 25-26 at the Southern Piedmont Ag Research and Extension Center in Blackstone. Cost is $100; register by Feb. 17.
The two-day program provides information on creating a business plan, selecting greenhouses, producing specialty cut flowers, running irrigation systems, marketing your business and determining profitability margins. You also get the CD version of the 300-page "Greenhouse Operator's Training Manual" published by the Virginia Flower Growers Association. Register at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Joyce Latimer with Va. Cooperative Extension at 540-231-7906.
Things to doCoal and the bay. 7 p.m. today. Emily Francis from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation discusses the effects of coal pollution on the bay's health during a meeting of the John Clayton Chapter, Virginia Native Plant Society at the York County Library, Route 17 and Battle Road. Visitors welcome. www.claytonvnps.org; 564-4494.
Native American plants. 10 a.m. Friday. Find a garden club to join and hear Bruce Peachee from the Virginia Living Museum discuss native plants during a meeting of the Peninsula Council of Garden Clubs. The event will be held at the Woman's Club of Newport News, 416 J. Clyde Morris Blvd., Newport News (across from Riverside Regional Medical Center). Free, guests welcome.
Bird Walk. 7-9 a.m. Saturday. Join members of the Williamsburg Bird Club for a bird-sighting walk through New Quarter Park. To reach the park in upper York County, exit the Colonial Parkway at Queen's Lake, turn right and follow the signs. Free. Meet park fans through www.meetup.com/NewQuarterPark. 890-3500.
African violets. 2 p.m. Sunday. Barbara Stewart from the Richmond African Violet Society discusses dish gardens and natural containers during a meeting of the Tidewater African Violet Society at St. John Lutheran Church, 8918 Tidewater Drive, Norfolk. New members and guests invited. 479-3681.
Flower show bus. Feb.28-March 1. Sign up for the Philadelphia Flower Show bus sponsored by The Fred Heutte Center, a nonprofit, educational garden center in the Ghent area of Norfolk. $325, includes transportation, double room occupancy and tour of Longwood Gardens. www.fredheutte.org; 441-2513.
Kathy Van Mullekom is home and gardening columnist for the Daily Press. Learn more about local gardening at www.dailypress.com; e-mail Kathy at email@example.com or call 247-4781. Find her at Facebook.com/Kathy.vanmullekom and on Twitter.com as @diggindirt.