Winter Houseplant Care – Top 10 Tips

Winter Houseplant Care – Top 10 Tips

In January our houseplants become even more important to us. They add humidity to the air, filter indoor air pollutants, and add mood-lifting greenery to our home and work environments. In late January there are several things to be aware of for indoor plants.

  1. When it’s colder outside and our heating runs constantly, the soil in houseplants dries more quickly. You may find that your houseplants need watering more frequently in the dead of winter. Make a point to feel the soil to see if it’s dry. Check plants in southern windows more often and notice if the soil has pulled away from the sides of the pot: this is a sign that the root ball is dry. If the soil has shrunk away from the pot, water the plant well and wait awhile…if there is water in the saucer below the pot, let it stay for a couple of hours so that you know the roots are well saturated. If there isn’t water in the saucer, add a bit more water to the soil. After two or three hours any remaining water in the dish or saucer under the pot can be drained away so the plant isn’t kept too wet.
  2. The sun is getting stronger every day at this time of year and the days are slowly growing longer. This is your cue to begin to fertilize your houseplants again. Use any fertilizer at the strength recommended on package directions and never fertilize a thirsty plant. Water your houseplants well first, and fertilize hours later or the next day.
  3. Watch for pests! Scale often shows up on houseplants in late-January or February. If the area under your plants begins to get sticky, look for tiny tan or brown dots on the stems or underneath leaves. Spray affected plants with insecticidal soap.
  4. Give your plants a shower! With the exception of African violets, indoor plants like a nice shower at this time of year. Adjust the water to room temperature (the water should feel barely lukewarm to your touch) and let it rain down on the plants for a minute or two. This will wash off dust and water the plant well at the same time. Any plants that have pests can be sprayed with insecticidal soap after their shower. Note: be sure to rinse your shower after spraying with soap so that surfaces won’t be slippery.
  5. Trim leggy plants such as over-wintering geraniums back now. You can root the cuttings if you want more plants for yourself or to share.
  6. Late winter is a good time to repot houseplants. Even if you don’t want to move your plants into a larger pot, you can take them out of their containers, remove some of the old soil with your fingers and plant again in the same pot with new potting soil.
  7. Refresh plants that aren’t ready for repotting with earthworm castings or compost. We recommend using bagged compost for houseplants rather than “homemade” because most home compost piles don’t get hot enough to kill weed seeds. The last thing you need is to have to pull weeds from houseplants!
  8. If you’re bothered by fungus gnats (aka fruit flies) hang some yellow Whitefly traps to attract and kill the adults and add some organic Captain Jack’s Deadbug Brew (active ingredient spinosad) to your watering can every time you water. The spinosad will help control the larvae in the soil and the yellow sticky traps will get rid of those pesky flies!
  9. Turn your houseplants every time you water. If you rotate the pot 1/4 around, clockwise every time you water you’ll expose all sides to the strongest light and keep your plants full and shapely.
  10. Create a new display: rearrange existing plants or add something new to a window you see most often. Sometimes our houseplants become “part of the wallpaper” – moving things around and adding new plants gives you something new to look at and enjoy.
A light-weight watering can with a thin spout is most useful for watering houseplants.
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  1. LINDA LACROIX on January 24, 2014 at 8:17 am


    • CLFornari on January 24, 2014 at 9:49 am

      Thanks, Linda! We are looking forward to spring too. Stay warm in the meantime!

  2. Donna Gagnon on January 28, 2014 at 8:19 pm

    My staghorn fern, though previously very healthy, has developed white splotches this winter and isn’t looking so good. Looks like a fungus. How should I treat it? And can it spread to my other plants?

    • CLFornari on January 28, 2014 at 9:07 pm

      These plants aren’t usually prone to fungus although perhaps it’s powdery mildew. Could you send us a photo? [email protected] The main problem people have with staghorn fern is that they want a high level of humidity and at this time of year, especially in the northern part of the country, our heating comes on so frequently that the air is dry. A humidifier is the best way to add moisture to the air. If that’s not possible, if you have a window in a bathroom that’s used frequently the plant might be happier there since bathrooms are usually more humid. If you really think it’s a fungus, put the plant in the shower and spray with a light application of a sulfur spray for houseplants.

      Feel free to send us a photo so we can be of better help – it’s hard to diagnose a plant problem without seeing the plant.

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