Winter Care Pays Dividends For Healthy House Plants

A bit of greenery in the home is most appreciated during the winter. But, unfortunately, this is the season when it is hardest to keep house plants healthy. 

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Cold drafts, artificially heated rooms, and short days make the job difficult. Several other factors also play a part in making plants ill. 

Other Factors That Make Unhealthy Plants

Faulty Pilot Light

Perhaps the most common in tiny homes and apartments is a faulty pilot light in the kitchen range. 

Some plants are so sensitive that one part of gas in 400,000 parts of air will cause the leaves to turn yellow or drop off.

You may not be able to smell the gas, but should the pilot go out frequently or the jets fail to light as soon as the gas is turned on, it would be wise to make some adjustments.


Leaf yellowing and premature leaf fall may also occur when the soil is overwatered. During the winter, house plants do not, as a general rule, grow very much, and their roots are not very active.

Overwatering at this time is definitely out of order; first, because the plants do not need so much water. Second, overwatering tends to drive out of the soil the air (oxygen) essential for keeping the roots in good health.

Most houseplants should keep the soil dry rather than wet. This is especially true for cacti and other succulents.

No one can say exactly when to water plants. Indeed, you should not water them at a set time every day, nor should you add more water if the soil is still moist. 

A quick way to determine whether your plants need water is to tap the side of the pot with a small block of wood.

A clear ringing sound indicates that the soil is dry; a dull, heavy sound means that water is not needed. With a bit of practice, you can soon become an expert in this method.

Arid Atmosphere

An arid atmosphere also accounts for the unthriftiness of some house plants. The relative humidity of the greenhouses where the plants were first grown was at least 20% percent. 

It is not surprising, then, that the plants do poorly when suddenly shifted to the dry atmosphere of the average home, where the humidity rarely exceeds 30% percent!

Where the air is arid, something should be done to increase the moisture, at least near the plants. 

One way to do this is to set the pots on a layer of sand or gravel in a shallow box or tray and keep the layer moist. This is especially helpful with plants like ferns.

Different kinds of plants have extra moisture, sunlight, and soil requirements. Several excellent books describing the needs of the more commonly grown houseplants are available. Without proper management, your plants will not be at their best.

Eliminating Insects And Fungus Parasites

Certain insects and fungus parasites may injure or even kill your house plants.

As a rule, insects with sucking mouth-parts are more common than chewers. Most prevalent are aphids, mealy bugs, red spider units (not actual insects), scales, white flies, and thrips, in that order.

Even the novice can easily detect all of these, except possibly the spider mites. Don’t let the passive nature, white covering, and whitish cottony egg masses of mealy bugs fool you into mistaking these insects for fungus.

And just because scales move only when young, and are usually set in one place by the time you notice them, don’t forget they are actual insects.

You can detect red spiders by gently tapping a leaf over a sheet of white paper. Spiders on the leaf will be dislodged, and if you look carefully, you will see them against the white background.

Forceful syringing with water will remove adult and young aphids, mealy bugs, and red spiders but will not remove their eggs. Hence the treatment must be repeated periodically as the eggs hatch.

Insects that cannot be dislodged by syringing can be picked or scraped off if only a few plants are involved. 

Removal by hand should be repeated from time to time to destroy the pests that develop from eggs deposited around the edge of the pot, in the soil, or even on the stems.

If your plants are heavily infested with insects or have many plants, you will do well to spray them occasionally with a suitable contact insecticide like nicotine sulfate and soap. 

To prepare the mixture:

  1. Dissolve a teaspoonful of any mild laundry soap flakes in a quart of water.
  2. Add 2 teaspoonfuls of nicotine sulfate and shake the whole vigorously.
  3. Pour the sonic of this mixture into a household spray gun and spray the whole plant thoroughly.
  4. For best results, do your spraying when the room is warm.

Generally speaking, fungus and bacterial diseases of the leaves are not standard on house plants. 

A reasonable precaution against such infections is avoiding frequent water applications to the leaves. Instead, apply water to the soil surface only when syringing to remove red spiders.

Certain roots and lower stem diseases are more common than leaf diseases. This is because the fungi responsible for them develop most frequently in heavy, waterlogged soil. This is another reason why you should avoid overwatering plants in winter.

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