A GREENER VIEW
Q: I work out in my basement. I have one window well that has a weed growing in it. The window well is covered with an opaque cover, but the weed seems to be doing well with no care. I would consider the light to be a defused partial shade. The lid overlaps the well, so no water goes down the well. I don’t know why the weed is doing so well.
Is there anything I can plant in there that would be nicer to look at? It would get defused light and I suppose I could water it occasionally. It would also have to survive the winter and I don’t want to trim it. Is there any plant that fits this description? How about chicken and hens?
A: Weeds do have a knack for growing in places where it doesn’t look like anything could survive. We often see weeds coming up in sidewalk or parking-lot cracks and wonder about the roots location and how they can survive the hot and dry conditions. Your plant is growing in a dark and dry condition.
Apparently, there is enough light to keep a shade-tolerant plant alive. The water is probably coming down along the side of the house and wicking into the soil under the window well. The two limiting factors here are going to be water and light. There are not many plants that grow in shade and dry conditions because shady areas tend to be moist.
Hen and chicks is a sedum that can tolerate dry soils, but it needs lots of sun. You could try it to see how it does. If it starts growing tall and pale, it needs more light.
Having double-checked, I know this isn’t your only window well and it’s not the one used as a fire escape. Short window wells will work better than tall ones, since there will be better light and more water will reach the bottom. With the lid on and the heat from the house, I think it will be warmer in the window well during the winter and cooler in the summer. The temperature will cause plants to react differently than areas farther from the house, so plants will last longer into the fall and may start growing earlier in the spring.
During the first year, I would try shade annuals that grow in your area to see how well they do during the summer. Based on how well they do, you can try some shade-tolerant perennials later.
Q: I have a shelf under my windowsill that contains several houseplants. They seem to do fine most of the year, but every February, they start to die. The leaves get pale green. The plants turn brown and die, starting at the tips and along the edges. What am I doing wrong?
A: The biggest problem is probably low humidity, with not enough light coming in second and possibly a watering problem in third place. The indoor air of most homes has very low humidity during the winter. It takes awhile for the plants to react, which is why the dead and dying leaf edges show up late in the winter.
Many homes are designed with a heating register under the windows. This design will blast warm air on the plants, drying them out. If there is a computer or TV in the room, it will warm the air, too. Try increasing the humidity by adding water to the saucers under the pots. To prevent the roots in the pots from drowning, raise them by placing them on small rocks or marbles.
The pale-green color signals the plants are probably not getting enough light. Some houses have shrubs growing so tall outside the windows that the only houseplants you can grow are mushrooms. Try moving the plants to a sunnier window or closer on the shelf to the window. Plants that need less light would be a better choice next winter.
Check the soil or the edges of clay pots to see if there is a white crust. This would indicate that the water has some salt in it or the soil contains an excess of fertilizer. These minerals are transported to the farthest reaches of a leaf in the water inside the plant. As the water evaporates away, the minerals build up, causing a high concentration. In the tip of the leaf, the plant cells die with too much salt. Cut back on the fertilizer during the winter. If there is a salty crust on the soil, scrape it off and toss it out. If you only water the plant from the bottom of the pot, occasionally pour water on the top to rinse the fertilizer back into the soil.
E-mail questions to Jeff Rugg, University of Illinois Extension at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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