Guide to Watering Houseplants – January Gardening Tips

Watering houseplants properly, checking them for spider mites regularly, and ordering seeds early are some of the gardening activities for this month.

Feel the soil of your houseplants.  When it’s dry an inch or so deep, apply enough water so it comes out the bottom drainage hole. The larger the pot, the longer you can wait in between waterings.  If you have a fireplace or forced-air heat, you may have to water small pots every couple of days. Humidifiers are very beneficial for plants, and for us.  Even setting plants on a tray of pebbles, kept moist, will help them.

Many houseplants, including palms and cyclamen, are attacked by spider mites this time of year. They are microscopic creatures that suck plant juices, causing the leaves to look speckled or silvery. To scout for these pests, mist the plants lightly; if mites are present, the water droplets will cling to the mites’ fine webbing. Control them by misting plants daily to keep the humidity high (spider mites love dryness) and by spraying plants with insecticidal soap.

If you want to have the best selection of plants ready to go into the ground when you’re ready to plant, place plant orders early. The selection dwindles the longer you wait, especially for new and unusual varieties.  Some very tiny seeds such as begonias need to be sown in winter.  Others, such as the All-America-winning coneflower PowWow Wild Berry, need to be sown the end of January in order to bloom the first year from seed.

Most coneflowers (Echinacea) will need to be purchased as plants, either through catalogs, online, or from local nurseries this coming season.  To get an idea of which of the hundreds now available may perform best in our climate, look over the results of several years of trials so far with this genus (  You’ll want to look for ones that not only are hardy but also stay upright and don’t flop over.  If you want to help pollinators, make sure to plant some cultivars (cultivated varieties) that are single, not double.

Schefflera or Umbrella Plant is a common houseplant that you may consider if you have bright light and sufficient space.  This has glossy, leathery leaves in a pinwheel shape.  While the common species has up to 7 leaflets, up to a foot long, the dwarf schefflera has 7 to 11 leaflets only up to 4-inches long.  The species can get up to 8 feet or more high indoors, and about 4-feet wide, while the dwarf one only gets about 4 feet high and wide indoors.  Keep these plants away from drafts, and don’t overwater them.

If you keep any kind of gardening journal, dig it out now and refresh your memory about what worked and what didn’t work last year. Read notes you took at garden visits and gardening workshops to give you ideas of plants and techniques you may want to try this year. If you don’t have a gardening journal, just designate a small notebook as a place to collect your thoughts and wish lists. You may have a folder for each year to tuck notes into during the year, (such as ideas for next year’s vegetable garden, and what varieties that you want to try), as well as plant lists, receipts (to know what you bought), and maps of what was planted last year and where.

Other garden-related activities for this month include keeping bird feeders filled and cleaned regularly, making plans to attend one of our garden tours this coming season (, gently removing heavy snow from shrub branches, using deicing salts that are safe for plants and pets, and checking stored root crops and bulbs for rots.

Leonard Perry, UVM Horticulturist
and Charlie Nardozzi, Garden Consultant

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