It’s that time of year again. It seems so long ago that you dragged your summer-vacationing potted plants in from the outdoors to live among their fellow indoor residents. Day length has dwindled to the point of commuting to and from work in the dark, and some of your treasured container beauties are looking rough around the edges.
A healthy peace lily is a sight to behold – indoors or out.
Photo Credit: James Burghardt
The African violet is an easy houseplant to grow and flower over the winter.
Photo Credit: Gerald L. Klingaman
A potted tropical hibiscus is easier to overwinter than you might think.
Photo Credit: Jessie Keith
Orchids of all types are popular houseplants that can brighten your interior.
Photo Credit: Gerald L. Klingaman
What’s a houseplant lover to do?
Learn2Grow’s plant doctors received many midwinter houseplant questions from our newsletter readers – and thank you to everyone who sent in a query. We received a great deal of feedback regarding the houseplants you’re growing and the problems you’re facing with keeping them happy and healthy. Nearly half of you asked about the general environment you should be supplying to your houseplants over the winter months – from lighting to humidity – as well as questions on watering, fertilizing and how to avoid brown tips on the ends of your leaves.
The next most common questions concerned how to successfully overwinter your plants in various situations. Pest queries were overwhelmingly about whiteflies – a nasty insidious pest that isn’t easy to treat. Others regarded aphids on hibiscus and fungus gnats in their potted plants. A few questions even trickled in about plant identification or issues that we had to investigate a bit to answer.
While many of your houseplant questions were similar in nature, there were some surprising ones as well: One desperate reader worried about the houseplant that her husband watered – with soda! Another asked about when to plant her gifts of white poinsettias outside in Florida.
It’s always fun to find out which houseplants people are growing in their homes, too! The most frequent plant we received questions about was peace lily (Spathiphyllum). Other popular selections were tropical hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis), poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima), African violets (Saintpaulia), Holiday cactus (Schlumbergera), figs (Ficus), Dracaena and various orchids.
The following questions and answers highlight some of the common problems we all face in successfully growing houseplants through winter (and beyond). Hopefully they’ll answer a few queries that you may be having about your own indoor beauties.
Question: What’s the best indoor environment for a peace plant?
Answer: Peace plants (botanically known as Spathiphyllum species) are great plants for medium- to low-light areas in the home. For best flowering, medium-light locations are preferred. The soil should be kept barely moist at all times. Avoid putting the plant in places that are hot and/or dry. Lack of humidity can cause the tips of plant’s leaves to turn brown. Fertilize from March through November; allowing your plant to rest during the winter months. (Spathiphyllum leaves can be dust magnets, so an occasional shower will help remove dust.)
Question: I live in San Antonio, TX, and have about 20 houseplants. Now that it’s winter, the heater is on and the house is kept relatively warm. Because it’s a spread-out one-story, the house feels cold at 74 degrees, so we keep it set at 75 – just enough to keep the chill out while at the same time wearing a sweater. I think, however, that my plants may be suffering. All of them, from my lucky bamboo to the treelike cane varieties, have brown-tipped leaves. Is this because the house is dry and warm? Whether it is or not, what can I do to reverse this process?
Answer: The brown tips you describe are caused by the dry air typically found in many homes during winter. When houseplants spend the summer outdoors, they enjoy the natural humidity found in the air. Once we bring them in and turn up the heat, they suffer from the dryness.
What can you do? For starters, take sharp, clean scissors and trim off the dead tips. As for the dryness, using a humidifier in the room is a good way to bring moisture back into the air. Many gardeners create a pebble tray to help: Fill a large tray with clean pebbles or gravel, then add water. Set your potted plants on top of – but not in – the water. As the water evaporates, it creates needed humidity for your plants. Check the water level in the tray daily and add water as needed. Remember, too, that kitchens and bathrooms tend to be the most humid rooms in a home. If the lighting in your kitchen or bathroom is perfect for the plants you’re growing, relocate your houseplants to these rooms (if not permanently, at least for a little bit).
Question: Are there any tips for overwintering a tropical hibiscus as a houseplant, or are you better off just buying a new one each year?
Answer: You can overwinter a tropical hibiscus if you have the right conditions in your home. (Bring your plant indoors right after a light frost.) A tropical hibiscus needs very bright light – too little, and the leaves will yellow and drop off, as will the flower buds. Another option is to bring the plant indoors and withhold all water. This will force the plant to go semi-dormant and drop all its leaves. (Don’t panic!) Store the plant in a cool (40-45 degree F) location. Check the soil every few weeks for moisture. If dry, then water – then let the soil dry out again before watering. Minimal watering keeps the plant alive and the branches from shriveling. Remember, you do not want to force any new growth in winter, you just want to keep the plant alive. Do not fertilize during this time either. If all else fails, pitch the plant and buy a new one come spring.
Question: What kind of flying insect lays eggs on the underside of poinsettia leaves while indoors? The leaves began dying because of these insects – the pests were white in color.
Answer: Chances are the insect you’re describing is the insidious whitefly. Whiteflies can be very difficult to control – a new generation comes along every few days! Concentrate your spraying efforts on the undersides of the leaves when the pests are young and easier to control!
Whatever you’re dealing with in terms of houseplant issues over the winter, know that you’re not alone. No garden – indoors or out – is perfect, and our green thumbs are constantly being tested. Thankfully, there’s a wealth of helpful articles and plant profiles on Learn2Grow to help overcome those challenges.
Good luck in your houseplant efforts, and remember that the bright sunshine of spring is just around the corner!