Let’s think about houseplants

January 25, 2023

By Majo Bates, Washington County Master Gardener

I enjoy having houseplants in my home. They give off oxygen which is very good for us humans. I have many friends that I have given houseplants to. Sharing is a lot of fun and sometimes I have too many, so I love to share my abundance.

Most houseplants are tropical. They prefer a household temperature during the day of about 70 degrees F and 60 degrees F at night. Houseplants need to be protected from freezing. So, if you purchase plants in the winter, please protect them by wrapping tissue paper or newspaper around them. Plastic bags are not good, but they are better than nothing. Keep your houseplants away from hot areas like heat vents, space heaters, and hot radiators and from cold drafts close to doors and windows. In fact, winter is not a good time to purchase houseplants.

I run a vaporizer 24/7 in the winter months. They need the humidity. Sometimes a few leaves will drop off, but new leaves should replace the old ones. So do not worry.

Winter is also not a good time to feed your houseplants. But in late February, you can begin to feed them again. Start feeding a little at a time. If you overfeed, a buildup of soluble salts can occur that can damage roots or possibly kill the plants.

It is my experience that most houseplants that die are from over watering! YES! Plants can suffer from either too much or too little water. Take into consideration the size of the pot and how many plants are in that particular pot. I always feel the soil. I stick my bare finger in the soil about an inch or more. Suppose my finger feels moist, no water. If my finger feels like things are dry, I can water them, but I never drown my plants. They do not need to sit in water. Some houseplants like to be on the dry side. Make sure all of your pots have a hole or several holes in the bottom. Use a catcher under your pots so that you can empty any water that is caught. If you let the plant sit in this water, it can cause root rot which will kill your plants.

Plants need light! I have most of my plants in an area of my south windows. I know that might not be possible for everyone. So, figure out if your plant needs low, medium, or high light. As a guide, figure low light to be that from a north window, medium from an east or west window, and high from a south window. To keep a plant growing well, it may be necessary to rotate the plant every few weeks to prevent uneven growth. To avoid too much light or sun, you can use sheers or lace curtains which will help greatly.

If you cannot find a plant sitter when you go on vacation, you can place your pots on pebbles in a tray with water in the bottom and this will help with humidity. You can also water with a wick running to each plant that draws from a water supply, or you can enclose your plants in plastic bags, making a mini greenhouse. This will hold in the moisture and prolong the time between the watering.

If you are moving, give your plants away or take your plants in your vehicle if you have room. Moving vans usually are not heated or even cooled, so plants can overheat or freeze according to the season. If you take them with you, put the pots in a large cardboard box so you can keep them together and take them into the motel, hotel, condo, etc. You won’t want to make a lot of trips to the car and back. Do not leave them in an overheated car or in a car when it is cold. When moving and you find a house, go in and set the temperature before taking in the plants. You might use that time to go eat, fill up with gas, or just drive around to get acquainted with your area. Even with all of this care, moving plants can put them in shock many times, so be prepared. For example: Before I married, my family moved from Welsh, Louisiana, to Irvington, Illinois. That is a huge difference in climate and humidity. Please take all of this into consideration when moving.

If you have questions about this article on house plant care, you have several options. Contact your local county U of I Extension office; go to the U of I Extension online; contact a Master Gardener that you know; get on Google; ask a gardener friend; go to the library to look up some plant books that you do not have access to; or read from some plant books or plant and garden magazines, etc. I sincerely hope this has been a great help to somebody out there that loves houseplants. Learn more about the 2023 Master Gardener training starting February 7, 2023, at go.illinois.edu/MasterGardenerTraining23 or email lueking@illinois.edu for details.

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