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ASK MARTHA: INDOOR WINTER PLANT CARE TIPS

Houseplants bring life to every room with their delightful foliage. If your houseplants have spent time outdoors during the warm weather, take these important steps before bringing them indoors to enjoy.

Question: Hi Martha, What are some tips for caring for plants that I have brought inside for winter?

Martha Stewart: Houseplants bring life to every room with their delightful foliage - even one without a lot of sunlight. The options are varied, with as many distinctive shapes and textures and shades as what you see out your window. If your houseplants have spent time outdoors during the warm weather, take these steps before bringing them indoors.


CHECK FOR INSECTS AND DISEASES

The first thing to do before bringing houseplants indoors is to make sure they are not bringing any pests or diseases with them. If possible, inspect them outside, or in a garage or shed. Be sure to check both sides of the leaves as well as the stems. Gently take your plant out of its pot to check the condition of the soil. When it’s time to repot in the spring, Miracle-Gro® Indoor Potting Mix, which doesn’t contain compost or bark, helps plants become less prone to gnats. Spray your plants with a mix of mild soap and water or horticultural oil to help rid them of insects.

Martha’s Bonus Guide to Common Houseplant Problems and Treatments (see below)

LIGHT THEM RIGHT

There's an indoor plant to suit every space. Kitchens and baths are more humid (better for thirstier plants); hallways and bedrooms are cooler and drier. Ultimately, though, it's the amount of light that matters most.

LOW LIGHT

These plants can even grow in a dark corner or a basement with some natural light coming In.

BAMBOO PALM

Also known as butterfly palm, this popular plant has long, feathery fronds and is among the easiest to care for, requiring little in the way of light or water.

CAST-IRON PLANT

This tropical understory plant - in nature it grows on the forest floor - can take a lot of neglect (hence its name) and thrives in even dark spaces.

JAPANESE FATSIA

In the South, this shade-loving, big-leaved plant is a shrub. In the North, it makes a dramatic foliage plant in a dimly lit corner of a house.

PHILODENDRON

Easy to grow - and to love, with its draping foliage - this plant is highly adaptable, needing little light to thrive. It is, however, potentially toxic to pets (and people) if ingested.

SANSEVIERIA

With its tall, thick, spiky leaves, this striking architectural succulent (known as the snake plant) is among the most forgiving, prospering in dry air and with minimal direct light.

BRIGHT INDIRECT LIGHT

Grow these in rooms that get lots of filtered sunlight (ones with windows that face east, west, and north).

BEGONIAS

The easy-to-care-for rhizomatous varieties thrive in high humidity but the soil needs to dry between waterings.

DIEFFENBACHIA

Large, usually marbled, tropical leaves make this a favorite houseplant, either alone or as part of a mix. Its English name, dumb cane, is a reference to its toxic sap that, when chewed by humans or pets can cause numbness or swelling in the tongue (consider yourself duly cautioned).

GESNERIAD

Many in this group of plants, which includes African violets, can bloom on and off all year if given bright filtered light and allowed to dry out slightly between waterings. Remember to keep water off the leaves, lest they end up spotted. A regular dose of Miracle-Gro® Blooming Houseplant Food will increase the bloom.

FERN

This frilly plant adds a breezy, casual feel to your interiors. Like begonias, ferns benefit from high humidity; set them on pebble-lined trays filled with water to just below the surface of the stones.

WEEPING FIG FICUS

With its glossy green leaves, this upright woody plant is usually sold as a single-trunk tree, though you can also find it in a more expansive shrub form. It prefers constant conditions, so keep it in its happy place.

IVY TOPIARY

Trained ivy grows well in filtered light. Small-leaved varieties make the best topiaries. For a dash of color, try a variegated form.

ORCHID

While you can always count on orchids to do well in southern exposures, many collectors cultivate them entirely under grow lights. If growing orchids, try using Miracle-Gro® Orchid Mist to keep your plants well fed and healthy.

PEACE LILY

This plant produces pretty white flowers and prefers constantly moist soil (so water frequently and lightly.) However, it is also potentially toxic if ingested by pets.

POTHOS

Here's another climbing, cascading plant that looks like a vining philodendron, but with larger, thicker leaves that tend to be variegated. Caution: It’s potentially toxic to pets and children.

BRIGHTEST LIGHT

Southern exposure is required for these sun-seekers.

MYRTLE TOPIARY

During winter, myrtle topiaries can live near a sunny south-facing window. To encourage vigorous growth, move them outdoors during summer months.

SUCCULENT

If you like growing plants but don’t have time to care for them properly, consider growing succulents or cacti. Succulents are easy to maintain and can survive prolonged dryness because they store moisture in their fleshy stems, roots, and leaves. Succulents require little maintenance, if they get ample sun and not too much water.

ROUTINE CARE

Growing plants indoors requires its own kind of TLC. Here are some important tips for growing happy and healthy indoor plants.

ROTATE

Potted plants living along a windowsill will become disproportionately leafy on the side facing a window. A quarter turn each week will prevent this. You can simplify the task by placing the pots atop lazy Susans or plant turners, available in hardware and garden centers.

DUST

Like everything else in your home, plants will collect dust, which can prevent essential light from reaching the leaves. Be sure to dust them gently with a microfiber cloth and Miracle-Gro® Leaf Shine to clean and beautify your plants’ leaves.

WATER

After plants are brought inside for the season, you can cut back on watering. There is less sunlight during the winter months and plants need less water than when they are growing during spring and summer months. When you do water, make sure you use water that's at room temperature: more extreme temperatures can damage roots.

FEEDING

We recommend feeding your plants with Miracle-Gro® Indoor Plant Food every 7 to 14 days to help them grow to their full potential.

ADD HUMIDITY

Plants are most susceptible to insect infestation and other problems when the air is too dry. Create a humid environment to help them thrive: Fill the bottom of a watertight, rustproof plant tray or rubber boot tray (available at garden-supply stores) with pebbles. Arrange pots and add water almost to the top of the pebbles. Water plants as usual.

Martha’s Bonus Guide to Common Houseplant Problems and Treatments


What ails your houseplants may be easier to diagnose and cure than you think. This guide will help you determine whether your potted plants are suffering from insects, disease, or other problems and suggests ways to nurse your plant back to health. These simple solutions will turn caring for your houseplants into a joy rather than a frustrating chore.

INSECTS

APHIDS

Symptoms

Clusters of tiny, soft, sticky dots, especially dense on young, tender growth insects may be brown, green, red, or black. Plant feels sticky and may have shiny spots on leaves.


Solutions

Wash plants under a strong stream of water, rubbing the insects off with your hands. Avoid over watering and over fertilizing, which encourage insects.

MEALYBUGS

Symptoms

Clusters of white, cottony-looking insects, most often found on the undersides of leaves or where leaves meet stems.


Solutions

Lightly swab sites of infestation with a cotton swab soaked in rubbing alcohol. Plants under stress are most susceptible, so maintain their health and vigor.

SCALE INSECTS

Symptoms

Small waxy dots or disks clinging tightly to leaves. Insects may be brown, black, gray, white, or red. Leaves are discolored and sticky.


Solutions

Wash the entire plant with warm, soapy water and a soft cloth. For spiny plants such as cacti, use a skewer wrapped with a cloth soaked in warm, soapy water. Isolate infested plants until scales have died and dropped off.

SPIDER MITES

Symptoms

Unhealthy-looking leaves stippled with tiny yellow or brown spots. Light webbing appears over leaves and stems as infestation becomes well established. The mites are tiny, but their brown fecal pellets can be seen, especially on the undersides of leaves.


Solution

Isolate infested plants immediately, and wash hands well after handling. Spray plants with insecticidal soap, covering thoroughly. Increase humidity by misting frequently as spider mites thrive in dry conditions.



DISEASE

POWDERY MILDEW

Symptoms

White or gray patches on foliage. Plant appears pale and washed-out.


Solutions

Remove affected portions. Increase air circulation. A mixture of baking soda and water (see "Solutions in a Bottle" below), sprayed on before the fungus becomes firmly established, may be effective.

BOTRYTIS OR OTHER MOLDS

Symptoms

Soft, moldy patches on leaves or stems. Black or rotting leaves on stems.


Solutions

Decrease watering. Increase air circulation. Remove damaged parts; dust cut surfaces with cinnamon or a mild fungicide.

COMMON PROBLEMS

OVERWATERING

Symptoms

Wilted foliage feels flabby, indicating plant roots lack oxygen. Moldy or sour smell from soil. Black patches on leaves. Algae growth on soil surface. Fungus gnats - small, winged insects resembling fruit flies - may swarm around the plant.


Solutions

Check for drainage problems. If possible, remove the plant from the pot and place it on layers of newspaper overnight in a warm, dry spot. Once the plant is dry, repot it into a pot with good drainage. To ward off fungus gnats, block access to soil surface with gravel or small stones.

UNDERWATERING

Symptoms

Plant has wilted; leaves are withered, dry, and drooping. Pot feels light. Leaves may have brown tips or spots or may curl slightly.


Solutions

Plants that are very dry may require a 30-minute immersion in a tub of water. Water more frequently. Increase humidity. Repot in Miracle-Gro® Indoor Potting Mix, which is less prone to fungus gnats.

POTBOUND

Symptoms

Growth slows, and flowering may stop (although some plants, such as cacti, flower best when slightly pot-bound). Roots protrude from the drainage hole. Plant or plantlets fill the entire pot.


Solutions

Remove from pot; separate any offshoots if necessary. Place into one larger pot or, if divided, several smaller pots filled with Miracle-Gro® Indoor Potting Mix.

ETIOLATION

Symptoms

Thin, weak, spindly growth. Pale in color. Growth may be at an angle while plants stretch for light.


Solutions

Increase light exposure. If affected portions remain elongated or if the plant becomes ungainly, consider beginning anew with cuttings, or trim below weak growth.

SUNSCALD

Symptoms

Irregular brown or dry patches on leaves. Pale, washed-out foliage. Blisters on leaves. Frequent wilting.


Solutions

Move plants away from strong light sources. Remove affected portions if possible; they will not recover.

NOT FLOWERING

Symptom

Foliage is healthy, but plants do not flower.


Solutions

Increase light exposure. Provide a significant difference between night and day temperatures. Apply Miracle-Gro® Blooming Houseplant Food.

LOW HUMIDITY

Symptom

Brown tips on leaves. Leaves fall off regularly.


Solution

Increase humidity by misting regularly, placing plants on a tray filled with pebbles and water. Or use a cloche or a cake dome to cover plants (remove cover if it becomes foggy).

COLD DAMAGE

Symptom

Leaves are blackened entirely, or in spots. Discolored, flabby foliage and stems that won't stand up.


Solutions

Prune back affected portions to healthy, firm growth. Keep plants away from low temperatures and cold drafts. Maintain plant’s vigor so it can outgrow damage.

NUTRIENT DEFICIENCY

Symptom

Leaves are yellow and sickly, sometimes around the veins or new growth. Whole plant looks pale and unhealthy.


Solutions

Repot into fresh soil and a new pot. Fertilize with Miracle-Gro® Indoor Plant Food or Miracle-Gro® Indoor Plant Food Spikes.

BUDS DROP WITHOUT OPENING

Symptom

Flower buds form but drop off the plant before they blossom.


Solutions

Avoid moving plants while in bud. Keep them away from cold drafts or sudden temperature changes. Increase humidity by misting.

SOLUTIONS IN A BOTTLE

A dilute solution of baking soda, horticultural spray oil, and water is effective against powdery mildew if applied at the first sign of the fungus. If you are growing plants that are especially prone (such as rosemary), spray them every two weeks.

1 tablespoon baking soda

1 tablespoon horticultural spray oil*

1 quart water

Mix well, and spray over the plant, coating leaves thoroughly. Designate a spray bottle for this solution, and label it clearly.

*Horticultural spray oil is a light oil that helps the baking soda disperse in the water and stick to the plant.

It is available at nurseries and garden centers.

INSECTICIDAL SOAP is available at nurseries and garden centers. Read the label carefully before purchasing to be certain that it will treat your insect problem and is safe for your plant. Apply according to the directions. Remember that the soap is effective only if it makes contact with insects in its liquid form. After it has dried, there will be no effect.

Article by Martha Stewart, as part of the Growing with Martha Stewart partnership.