Krista Harding

Agriculture Agent, Southwind Extension District

Editor's Note: Krista Harding is a K-State Research and Extension agriculture and 4-H extension agent assigned to Southwind Extension District -- Erie Office, Neosho County. She may be reached at the Fort Scott office by calling (620) 223-3720 or at the Erie office by calling (620) 244-3826.

Winter houseplant care

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Out with the Christmas decorations and in with the gardening stuff! That seems to be the philosophy of most stores anymore. Don't believe me? Then head out and check out the shelves at your nearest discount store.

Of course, it is much too early to be out working in the garden, but now might just be the time to buy a new houseplant since the new shipments will be arriving. A houseplant could brighten your home a little bit through the rest of the winter.

The plants in stores look great, but they may not stay that way for long once taken home. One reason for this is because these plants are grown in a climate and light controlled greenhouse.

Our homes are definitely not even close to greenhouse conditions. But a few simple things can help you grow your houseplants with more success.

Plants grow during high light times, such as summer, and that is the time to provide ample water and fertilizer. Winter is a low light time and plants should be allowed to go dormant.

During dormancy, do not apply fertilizer and supply only small amounts of water. Remember, plants grow in the summer and sleep in the winter. Don't force a plant to grow during the winter.

Light is probably the most essential factor for indoor plant growth. A plant needs light from five directions. Obviously, this is not possible in most homes. But you can increase light availability.

To acclimate a new plant that was grown in high light conditions, place it in a high-light (southern exposure) area of your home and gradually move it to its permanent, darker location over a period of four to eight weeks.

Most foliage plants prefer day temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees with night temperatures usually 5 to 10 degrees lower. Avoid extreme temperature changes, such as cold and hot air blasts from windows, radiators, heating and air conditioning vents.

Ninety-five percent of plant problems are caused by incorrect watering. How much water a plant needs is influenced by several factors.

Not only is the individual plant size and species important, but also the growing conditions. Light, temperature, humidity, container type, container size and, finally, soil type all influence the speed of growth and, therefore, the amount of water needed.

It is best to look up individual plant types for their watering needs.

Frequency of fertilizer application varies somewhat depending on the individual plant. Some need it every two weeks, while others will flower well for several months without any supplementation. As a general rule, fertilize every two weeks from March to September.

Here are some common plant symptoms and possible causes:

General defoliation

Sudden change in temperature

Transplanting shock

Sudden change in light intensity


Lack of light

Browning of leaf tips

Improper watering

Exposure to cold drafts

Insect attack

Excess fertilizer

Please contact me at the extension office if you need assistance with caring for houseplants.