With proper care, herbs can thrive indoors


Here are some concerns of gardeners this time of year.

Q: Can I grow herbs in my home?

A: Yes, you can, if you remember they are outdoor plants. Most homes during the winter are too hot, too dry and too stuffy for herbs. Give your herbs conditions like you enjoy.

■ They prefer temperatures below 70 degrees.

■ Provide extra humidity by putting pans of water near plants and mist plants often.

■ Be sure each pot has a drainage hole.

■ Water whenever soil surface feels dry, use room- temperature tap water, which sat overnight to eliminate chlorine.

■ Feed plants monthly with a houseplant fertilizer.

■ Never let your herbs flower. If they do, plants become woody and stop producing leaves for culinary use.

■ Provide herbs with at least five to six hours light from your grow lights or windows.

■ Space plants for good air circulation to prevent disease.

■ Most herbs need at least 6- inch-deep pots for root to grow.

Q: Why can’t I grow bell peppers here?

A: Most bell peppers struggle in our climate. Our heat and bright sun causes rapid growth, causing the fruit to remain small and often sun-scalds. Hot peppers thrive because their foliage shades the peppers and the plants love our heat. A gardener tells me to try “Gypsy,” a wedge-shaped sweet pepper variety that loves our heat. It’s not as large as other bells but very productive. You’ll have to go on the Web to order it.

Q: Why are my houseplants’ leaves turning yellow and falling?

A: It’s part of the readjustment houseplants go through when under heated conditions. Be patient. They will stabilize with sufficient light and moisture. If leaves still continue to drop, check for spider mites. If needed, spray with insecticidal soap. With reduced light and cooler temperatures, houseplants won’t need as much water. Check for moisture by poking your finger an inch into the soil; water only when the soil feels dry.

Q: We live in an upstairs apartment with only a little patio to grow plants. What can I grow?

A: You can grow anything in containers as long as they get enough light (five to six hours each day). Make sure the container has a hole in it for drainage and place a screen over the hole to keep soil from washing out of the pot. Also, start with good potting soil. Plant the plants of your choice in pots at the same depth you find them in their original container. Firm the soil around the root ball and give plants a good soaking and then keep moist. Water if the soil feels dry to the touch. Use a soluble fertilizer every couple of weeks. When plants bloom, place them near the patio window or in your living room to enjoy their fragrance.

Q: When do I harvest my oranges?

A: Start with the taste test. A sweet taste tells you they are ready to harvest. You don’t have to harvest the fruit all at once; store them on your tree until needed. Fruit changing colors is not a signal to harvest. It takes cooler temperatures to bring on the color changes.

Dennis Swartzell of Horticulture Consultants found it took seven years for his lemon trees to come into full production. He is now rewarded with bushels of lemons off his tree.

Q: Clover is taking over our lawn. How do we control it?

A: It sounds as if you’re constantly using a fertilizer high in phosphorous. Clover thrives on this nutrient. Nitrogen and potassium are the main ingredients needed to keep lawns lush and thriving.

Q: How do you prune a 20-year-old Palo Verde with heavily drooping branches?

A: You’ve described an overwatered tree; reduce the watering schedule. Remove the lower branches interfering with traffic flow under it. Next, remove those branches interfering with other branches.

Avoid heavy pruning; the more you prune, the more you’ll prune next year. Experts never remove more than 25 percent of a tree at once. Your guess is as good as mine when arriving at what 25 percent of the growth is.

Q: Why did the bark on our 10-year-old apple tree split?

A: Some trees do this naturally. Don’t worry about it; splits usually heal. It also might be brought on if the tree is stressing for water and when given a deep watering, the trunk can’t expand fast enough and splits.

Linn Mills’ garden column appears on Sundays. You can reached him at liinmillslv@gmail.com or call him at 702-526-1495.