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Overwintering houseplants

POSTED: February 17, 2010 4:00 a.m.

During winter months, many homeowners try to overwinter potted plants inside. Others enjoy inside plants year round, but there can be problems.

  

Low light, low humidity, dry air and too much soil moisture are the primary culprits that can weaken and destroy our indoor plants. Proper management of these growing factors, of course, is essential to your maintaining healthy, vigorous houseplants.

  

Listed below are the eight most common symptoms you may see on plants and help tips:

  

• Stems grow abnormally long, leaves become long and pale, new leaves are undersized, and growth is weak or spindly:

  

This is almost always due to insufficient light. Give your plants more light by placing them closer to a window or supply supplemental lighting via grow lights.

  

• Stems become soft or mushy; dark in color and rotten, lower leaves curl and wilt, and soil at the top of the pot is constantly wet:

  

Too much water is the cause. Do not water as frequently. Continuing to water plants that are growing in over-saturated soils will inevitably lead to root rot. 

  

Make sure that your pot’s drainage hole is not clogged and don’t let your plants sit in water-filled saucers for more than an hour.

  

• Wilted foliage:

  

This can actually be caused by under watering or over watering. Also, excessive amounts of fertilizers can draw water from the roots, causing the plant to wilt. 

  

Other causes of wilting are low humidity, moving shock, a sudden change in light or temperature, cold or hot drafts, high heat or frost damage.

  

• Defoliation:

  

Rapid defoliation may be caused by extremes in temperature, changes in light, over watering or under watering and exposure to cold and disease. Gradual defoliation, as when the lower leaves turn yellow and drop, can be caused by over watering (root rot), under watering, lack of sufficient light, low fertility or disease. Keep in mind that an occasional leaf may drop due to natural aging, which is normal.

  

• Leaves yellowed, wilted and/or mottled:

  

This is often caused by too much water, which in turn causes root rot. As mentioned earlier, do not let your plants stand in water. Yellowing may also be caused by severe insect infestations (scale or spidermites), very low light, high temperatures or insufficient amounts of plant fertilizer.

  

Older plants may become pot-bound and a yellowed or wilted condition usually develops. In this case, repot to a larger container using fresh potting soil.

  

• Browning of leaf tips:

  

Low humidity, excess fertilizer, spray damage from pesticides, unfavorable soil reaction (a high or low soil pH), or root loss due to excessive water in the soil will cause tips to brown.

  

• Leaf edges are crinkly and brown:

  

This is caused by low humidity. Misting helps and you may also want to consider placing a cool-vapor humidifier in your plant room to increase humidity.

  

• Rot at soil level:

  

This is usually caused by over watering, yet plants that are set too deeply or a fungal or bacterial disease may be a problem.

  

In most cases you will have to discard the plant, although you may be able to start new plants by taking cuttings from upper sections that are healthy.

  

Clark Beusse is the Dawson County extension agent. For more information, call (706) 265-2442.

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