This means that you should not fertilize as much or as often during the months of December, January and February. In fact, it is a good idea to allow your houseplants to take a “nap” or rest period during this time by reducing your fertilizer rates and/or your fertilization frequency.
Fertilizing houseplants promotes growth, and during the winter months with much lower natural light levels, your plants are not as likely to receive nearly enough light to support this new and active growth. Again, remember that you are simply trying to maintain your houseplants’ overall health during the winter months.
Speaking of light, proper lighting is another crucial factor in maintaining attractive and healthy houseplants during the winter. Have you ever noticed that if your houseplants do start to put on growth during the winter, the new growth often looks spindly? Do the stems appear be stretching themselves toward the light of a nearby window or to the light from a lamp? Do the leaves get spaced so far apart that your plants don’t really appear very attractive anymore?
If so, it is because there is not enough light to support the plant’s new growth. The stem between the leaves is called the internode.
The internode can get quite long if your plant doesn’t get enough light. This is really noticeable on vining plants like arrowhead vine, ivy, philodendrons, pothos and syngonium.
So, watch your plants! If they are “telling” you that they are not getting enough light, either supply more light (with grow lights) or move your houseplants to a brighter area in the room. Keep in mind that giving your houseplants more fertilizer or plant food will not stop the ‘stretching’ problem. Providing more light for your plants is the answer.
Remember too, that your houseplants may need even more water during winter months than they would normally receive during other times of the year. As outside temperatures drop, your heating system may cause the air in your house to become extremely dry. That, of course, causes indoor plants to dry out much faster and more often than when the air is cooler in spring or fall or even in the summer when the air conditioning is on.
You will need to check the soil moisture in the pots more often. If the soil feels dry at a depth of one inch, then it is time to water that plant. A word of caution, however; do not haphazardly water your houseplants during the winter. Too much water can hurt much more than too little, by drowning the root systems. Over-saturated root systems very often develop root rots, such as Phytopthora or Rhizoctonia.
One last note: dry air is particularly rough on certain plants, especially ferns. Warm, dry air inside our homes during winter causes many plants to drop their leaves, or fronds in the case of ferns. These plants can look pretty sad by springtime. If possible, mist your houseplants or place them in a protected area like a sun porch on warm winter days, but bring them back inside if night temperatures go below 45 degrees. Keep these tips in mind to grow beautiful healthy houseplants during the winter months.
Randy Drinkard is a technical writer for The University of Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture and ANR Agent for Troup/Meriwether Cooperative Extension. The Troup County Extension office is located at 114 Church St. in LaGrange, and may be reached at 706-883-1675, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.