The truth of the matter is that I have little use for house plants or, at least, those traditionally recgnized as house plants -- wandering Jew, spider plants, dreadful rubber plants and the various succulents that spill out over the edges of hanging baskets. I am reminded of dentist's offices and fern bars.

Rather, I view plants' being in the house as a means of keeping them going until they can get back to their rightful place in the garden. These would include geraniums, impatiens, begonias and other tender perennials as well as those rescued from the herb garden before the frost -- rosemary and myrtle.

Having said that, I understand that there are many people who feel strongly about their house plants, even going so far as to name them and sing to them, which I've always considered as being like talking baby talk to your dog.

The following advice comes from the woman who runs the Buckland Market down the road. It's not because she runs the store, one of those southern rural mom-and-pop general markets that preceded the sanitized 7-Elevens, that I'm passing it along, but because she has some of the healthiest-looking house plants I've ever seen, and my advice would undoubtedly lead to a slow and painful death for your plants. That's inevitably what happens to mine.

WATER SPARINGLY, says my friend at the store. In the winter the plants tend to go dormant as the available light is reduced and the room is cooler. Let the soil get nearly dry before watering, and when you do water, soak the plant in a bucket of water for perhaps 10 minutes, allow it to drain another 10 minutes or so, and put it back where it was.

MISTING is her secret to healthy house plants. She suggests you do this just as often as you can. It makes a lot more sense to me to mist your house plants than it does to sing to them. They need moisture around them in a dry heated house, although not necessarily on their roots. Another suggestion, which struck me as remarkably practical, is to spray the plants with Wilt-Pruf, the plastic-based coating used to keep evergreens from freeze- drying during the winter. This would also help prevent mite attacks. By spring, the Wilt-Pruf will have worn off.

FISH EMULSION fertilizer is the only one my friend at the market uses. She mixes it up and adds it to the regular watering every few weeks. It smells odd for just a little while, she says.

WASH YOUR PLANTS. This advice came to me from another house-plant grower sevral years ago. It's a good way to get rid of pesky little insects that may invade your house plants if you've brought in garden plants to winter over. Fill the sink with warm soapy water, cut a hole in a plastic bag that is large enough to fit over the pot only, and carefully slip it over the plant, bringing the green part through and covering as much of the soil surface as possible. Tie the bag shut tightly under the bottom of the pot and turn it upside down into the water. Swish it around for a minute or so, not allowing the soapy water to reach the pot itself, take it out, and repeat the procedure in clear warm water to rinse. Remove the plastic bag by cutting it off. For a large plant that won't bear picking up, give it a sponge bath, after protecting the soil with a plastic bag.

WINTERING-OVER PLANTS are handled a little differently, as are forced bulbs. By now the forced bulbs are sprouted and growing rapidly. Keep up the water level around the stones the bulbs are in, and keep a small cage of string around the stalks as they grow, to prevent them from falling over and breaking. Don't fertilize your forced bulbs or make substantial growth in the winter, such as the forced bulbs or seedlings. Watering of wintering plants is similar to house plants -- allow the soil to become nearly dry before watering. And try to keep all your indoor plants close to one another. Like the rest of us, they prefer company.