University of Illinois Extension
Bruce Spangeberg

These articles are written to apply to the northeastern corner of Illinois. Problems and timing may not apply outside of this area.

Stateline Yard & Garden

Solving Houseplant Problems

October 30, 1997

With winter approaching, houseplants are noticed more as we spend more time indoors. The winter season can be just as tough on houseplants as it is on us, however.

Shutting all the windows and heating the home for an extended period of time changes the environment of houseplants. The air becomes drier. Cold or hot drafts become a problem. As days get shorter and the sun gets lower in the sky, light intensity changes. Plants moved from the summer location to a new winter location see a change in growing conditions.

Houseplants will show typical responses to each of these problems. For example, rapid leaf drop is a typical plant reaction to extreme temperature or light changes. This is very apparent if a plant growing all summer on the screen porch was left there a little too long this fall. Likewise, plants moved from a bright window or patio location to a darker area often suddenly drop leaves. Plants located close to furnace ducts may also drop leave suddenly as the heat is turned on again in fall.

Another common problem is leaf tips turning brown. Low humidity could be a cause. Soil problems are another possibility. Also consider problems such as too much or too little water, too much or not enough fertilizer, or salts accumulating in the soil.

Wilting, although typically thought of as being due to a lack of water, can be caused by several factors. Cold or hot drafts, too cold or too warm temperatures, excess fertilizer, and sunburn (i.e. on windowsill) are other possibilities.

When problems start to show on houseplants, consider problems with the growing conditions first. While insects and disease do occur on most houseplants, the majority of problems are due to improper site and care factors that can often be corrected.

Needless to say, there are many houseplants available. Each has a specific preferred environment, including light, moisture, temperature, and nutrient requirements. Choose plants that fit your indoor conditions and group plants with similar needs together. Just as is the case outdoors, match the plant to the site.


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