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

Houseplant Problems Common in Fall

November 4, 1999

Plants, just like people, need to adjust to the onset of winter. Landscape plants go dormant. Most houseplants do not go dormant, but the change of seasons can change their growing conditions significantly. As a result, houseplants may look unhealthy.

As the home gets closed tighter for winter, and is heated, the environment around houseplants changes. Overall the air indoors becomes drier. Depending on where the plant is located, cold or hot drafts can become a problem.

Light quantity and quality is usually reduced in late fall and winter. As days get shorter and the sun gets lower in the sky, less light is available. November and December typically have lots of cloudy days. In addition, houseplants that spent the summer on a well-lighted porch or out on the patio see a drastic change in light when placed in a new winter indoor location.

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 leaves 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. Just as is the case outdoors, match the plant needs to site conditions and care for the plant properly.


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