ON THE MARKET FRIDAY, MARCH 20, 1998—9 GARDENING Reduce houseplants' water and fertilizer every so often By LEE REICH For AP Special Features T ypical instructions on a container of houseplant fertilizer might read: "Mix one-quarter teaspoon per 1 quart of water and water plants normally. Feed every two or three weeks." The instructions seem simple enough, but really should not be followed blindly. Plants are not machines, they are living things, and just now, they're not hungry. Even though shielded from the outdoors by insulated walls, panes of glass, artificial lighting, and heated air, houseplants are still influenced by the changing of seasons. Plant response to the present season is to slow down and take a rest. Let them rest by slackening the amounts of both fertilizer and water you give them. You might think that a little extra fertilizer won't hurt. But that excess is either wasted as water leaches it out the bottom of the pot, or - even worse - it accumulates in the soil as salts, which burn plants' roots. A white crust on the soil surface and browning of leaf margins are signs of this problem. If you notice the problem, water heavily a few times to wash the salts out of the soil. You don't, of course, want to starve your plants - some fertilizer may be needed. Soil-less potting mixes such as Jiffy-Mix and Redi-Earth have little or no fertilizer in them because they are made only from peat and vermiculite (and some starter fertilizer, which is soon expended). Fertilize plants in such mixes at about half- strength this time of year. Look at your plants, though, and if the old leaves are yellowing and dropping off, feed the plants a little more.In a couple of months, plants will begin to respond to lengthening days of approaching spring, and then fertilization will need to be increased accordingly. The situation is similar for watering as for fertilization - plants need least this time of year. The surest way to tell whether a plant needs water is to poke your finger into the soil. Cactii and succulents like their soil to become bone-dry between water- ings; for others, water when the top couple of inches of soil dries. But who wants dirty fingernails every day? With practice, you can also tell if a plant needs water by feeling how heavy its pot is or by rapping on it with a stick. Or use one of those electronic devices with a metal probe that you slide into the soil, then read the soil moisture on a dial. No matter how you figure out when to water, after a while you get a feel for the needs of each plant through the seasons, and then you need to poke and probe the soil only as a periodic check. Hardy bulbs are the exception to the rule that plants should be allowed to rest this time of year. Narcissi, crocuses, and hyacinths that you potted for indoor blossoms a couple of months ago are raring to grow. Focus your attention on forcing the growth of potted bulbs, and let other houseplants plod along for now. Decorating with glass Glass block has long been recognized as an ideal building product for providing privacy, security and aesthetic beauty while maintaining optimum light transmission. Whether in new home construction, remodeling or window replacement, glass block provides design flexibility in a variety of patterns. Now the beauty, durability and distinctive style of Pittsburgh Coming Glass Block is available in p s-assembled, ready to install vinyl frame windows. Pittsburgh Corning Corporation - a major producer, supplier and innovator of glass block for more than 60 years - has developed the LightWise Glass Block Window which is as easy to install as a traditional pane glass window. "The LightWise Window provides professional builders, remodelers and the weekend do-it-yourselfer with a pre- assembled, high quality glass block product that can be used in a wide range of applications," said Pittsburgh Corning President, Don Schlegel. "These windows are factory built making them a most cost- efficient way to install glass block windows. And because they're made of high quality glass, the LightWise Window will provide lasting beauty and performance not available with substitute materials." "There still will be many instances when a custom installation using individual glass block is preferred or necessary," said Schlegel. "But this new window meets a growing market demand for easier to install glass block for window applications." Installation is a breeze. The fully pre-assembled window is installed like a traditional pane glass window. Placed into the opening, the LightWise Window is quickly nailed and secured through the pre-drilled nailing fin. Available in 29 sizes to meet most any need, LightWise Windows come in white or sandstone vinyl framing. Silicone bonding is used between the individual glass blocks to provide a dramatic all glass look, creating a window with aesthetic appeal as well as functional value for the home owner. A choice of glass block patterns allows you to control privacy and eliminates the need for window treatments. Does your house need a new roof? For homeowners who need to replace their old, leaky roofs, there are a myriad of options available. Only one alternative, however provides the optimum combination of strength and durability with a good environmental record. That's steel. Thanks to the latest steel-making technologies, steel roofing offers an array of advantages for today's homeowners. And as a result, the popularity of steel roofing has grown dramatically. Thousands of builders are using attractive, durable steel tor all types of single family homes, multi-family dwellings, retirement homes and affordable housing projects. A roof made with steel is resistant to decay, discoloration and mildew. Other roofing materials can rot and crack during the winter freeze- thaw cycle but not steel. Steel is considered a "green" building material because it is 100 percent recyclable and produced in an environmentally friendly process. When used for roof- 'ng, steel saves valuable landfill space because it can be placed on top of an existing asphalt roof that would otherwise be garbage, (this also saves the homeowner money on labor to replace the old roof.) Steel roofing provides numerous bene- »ts to homeowners. • Attractive appearance: Painted steel roofs are available in a rainbow of colors to enhance the style and beauty of any home. • Long-lasting durability: This increases the value of a home and leads to sav- s down the road.. ......./•.••' • Superior wind resistance and fire protection: Steel is non-combustible and provides protection from wind-blown sparks as a result of lightening or fireplace flues. • Lower energy bills: Light colors reflect heat in warm climates to provide a savings in cooling costs. The strength of steel is legendary, but many people do not realize that "The New Steel" is stronger than ever. Now anything made with steel can be made with less material and produced more cost effectively. Consider this: the new parameters of steel's strength are such that the Sears Tower in Chicago (one of the world's tallest buildings) could be erected today with 35 percent less steel than was needed when it went up in 1974. 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