Get indoor growing conditions in perfect balance

Houseplants go dormant for the winter, a hibernation where they take a break from growth, having babies and blooming.

Now they're waking up and need a boost from us. It's easy and will result in better growing conditions and much nicer plants.

Over the years, I've learned the best way to grow them is to listen to them. They'll quickly tell you a lot, including where they want to live, how much water they need and when to fertilize.

You don't need a library of plant books or a doctor of botany degree. Just learn what to look for by keeping an eye on them and anticipate their needs. They'll tell you a lot.

Too little: Yellowing or off-color and then falling leaves, stunted or slow growth, spindly stems always heading toward the light source. Correct by placing in southern or western windows.

Too much: Bleached-out spots on upper leaves, dead leaves on stems, curled, dried and browned, new leaves smaller than old ones, uneven new growth, usually away from the light source. Move away from or shade windows.

Too cold: Withered leaves and stems fall without drying or browning, plant refuses to take up water in soil. Move to a warmer room.

Too hot: Rapid moisture loss in leaves, then wilting, yellowing and curling downward on the stems, then drying and falling. Soil dries quickly. Move to a cooler part of the room away from registers.

Cold drafts: Sudden wilting and falling of leaves. Move away from doors.


Too much: Curling and wilting of lower leaves, mushy stems then rot, bad odor, water standing in soil. Replant in pot with drainage holes, pour off standing water.

Too little: General browning and wilting of leaf tips, yellowing and falling lower leaves. Water until it flows from drainage hole, then water again.

Lack of humidity: Discoloring and drying of tips of new leaves, crinkling and browning of edges in older leaves. Increase humidity by spraying leaves with water and placing pots in trays of wet gravel.

Water quality: Rain, distilled or well water is best. Municipal water contains fluoride causing brown or black spots on leaves and tip burning. Softened water will increase the salt buildup in the soil.

Time to Repot
When it's time: Roots growing out of drainage hole, pot rapidly dries out, water pours from drainage hole as fast as you add it, plant growth slows or stops. Repot in a container 1 1/2 times larger than the existing one with good potting soil.


Note: Most plants rarely need fertilizer in winter, when their growth slows or stops. Begin fertilization when new shoots appear in spring.

Too much fertilizer: Plants grow wildly, rapidly sending out foliage, no or few flowers on flowering plants. Cut fertilizing in half and use low-nitrogen fertilizer when blooms appear.

Too little fertilizer: Overall looks sickly and stunted, lower leaves lose color and fall off, new leaves are small and refuse to grow. Use regular applications of water-soluble houseplant fertilizer per instructions on product. Never exceed application strength.

Jim Hillibish writes about gardening for The Repository in Canton, Ohio.

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