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It’s that time of year again: When I berate myself for having so many plants. We have a lovely deck and stream area that accommodate dozens and dozens of plants during three seasons of the year. I enjoy propagating plants from seeds, division and cuttings, luxuriating in the riot of blossoms from my “free” plants. But come late fall, I’m forced to pay for my sins of accumulation. And I can’t be a murderess and toss them. Aargh! Where can I put them all?

Some of the large ferns travel to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Charleston, where they sell quickly, and additionally, benefit the building of low cost housing. The wave petunias, begonias, geraniums get a buzzcut and move into our garage, which doesn’t fall below freezing. Others receive a spritzing of insecticidal soap (available from a plant center or use diluted baby shampoo—Do not use dish soap; it’s too harsh.) then migrate indoors to south-facing windows. Those babies are the focus of this article.

How much to water is always a conundrum. The surest way I’ve found to regulate watering is to place the plants on a tray with a layer of pebbles or gravel. Water the plants enough to keep the pebbles moist below the pot level. The evaporation raises humidity, which reduces static electricity, makes your house feel warmer, keeps your skin moist and the plants like it. A win-win-win-win situation. To reduce the chance of microscopic beasties, I run the trays and the pebbles in fine mesh bags through the dishwasher several times a winter.

If you see tiny insects flying around the plant, they are probably fungus gnats, which means you are watering too much. When the top inch of soil is dry, it is time to water. The gnat eggs can’t live in dry soil. Another remedy is to layer a half-inch of sand on top of the soil. The sand dries out faster, desiccating the gnat eggs. I keep water in gallon jugs to allow the chlorine to evaporate. (We discovered a side benefit of this when a water main broke and we were without water for a day.) Don’t be surprised when formerly lush plants become spindly during the winter due to reduced light. Since their growth slows, they do not need fertilizer.

Looking ahead: Mark your calendar for the morning of Saturday, February 17 – The Annual Master Gardener’s gala Spring Into Gardening! Educational speakers, delicious snacks, tempting silent auction items, fellowship with other gardeners. Registration will begin in January. More details to follow.

If you have other questions about your garden or landscape, feel free to contact a Master Gardener volunteer at the University of Illinois Extension office in Charleston at 217-345-7034. You can also check out the many horticulture webpages at the U of I Extension’s website by visiting . And be sure to like the Master Gardeners’ new Facebook page, at


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