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Houseplant Health | Winter 2007 Out Here Magazine

Humidity benefits plants, so increase it by placing them on trays of moist gravel and clustering them close together.

Your indoor plants need winterizing, too

By Jodi Torpey
Photography by Donnie Beauchamp

Have you taken a good look at your houseplants lately? Do you see yellowing leaves, brown leaf tips, or leaf drop? If so, your plants are trying to tell you something.

Many houseplants, such as philodendron, palms, and ferns, are tropical in nature and don't like cold weather any more than we do. Low light levels, fluctuating temperatures, and dry air mean plants need special care during the winter.

Besides adding greenery to the indoor scenery, houseplants provide the vital function of exchanging carbon dioxide for oxygen to improve indoor air quality. Plants also filter common toxins and keep our green thumbs in shape for gardening season.

Houseplants do so much for us, they deserve a little extra TLC. Here's how to keep your plants healthy all winter long.

Temperature and Humidity

Houseplants prefer a consistently temperate indoor climate and do best when daytime temperatures are 65 to 70 degrees and 60 to 65 at night.

Keep plants away from entry doors to protect them from cold drafts and don't let leaves touch chilly windows. Some may need to be moved to a warmer spot on especially cold nights, but not near hot air vents, fireplaces, or radiators.

Humidity, the amount of water moisture in the air, benefits people and plants alike. Indoor humidity should be between 30 to 40 percent during winter.

Placing plants on trays of moist gravel and clustering them close together can also increase humidity around plants. Misting works temporarily, but it isn't an effective way to sufficiently increase humidity levels.

Light

Light levels change during winter and some plants may need to be moved to a sunnier window. Plants will grow toward the light source, turn them occasionally to prevent them from becoming leggy or misshapen.

If you have blooming houseplants, such as begonias, fuchsias, or African violets, consider supplementing natural light with fluorescent or plant grow lights, exposing them to about 16 hours of light each day. Artificial lighting is usually placed one foot above plants.

Water

Plants aren't actively growing in winter, so they require less water. In fact, overwatering is the reason why most houseplants die. Instead of watering on a regular schedule, match the plant's needs. Some plants need consistently moist soil; others need soil that dries out between watering.

If you're not sure when to water, allow the upper 1 inch of soil to dry before watering again. Discard excess water that drains into the saucer.

Fertilizer

Hold back on the fertilizer during winter. When plant growth resumes in spring, begin fertilizing using an all-purpose houseplant fertilizer or a plant-specific fertilizer.

Show your plants how much you care by dusting their leaves with a soft, moist cloth. Not only will they shine, but you'll be able to catch any plant health problems early so you can nip them in the bud.

Jodi Torpey is a master gardener in Denver and author of the new book, The Colorado Gardener's Companion: An Insider's Guide to Gardening in the Centennial State.