2018-01-18 / From The Garden

‘Winterizing’ for Healthy Houseplants

By Cynthia Gibson

Some plants thrive indoors all year, while others live outdoors during the summer and fall, but must be moved indoors during the winter. The second group of plants, such as small trees, shrubs and herbs, bring insects indoors with them that can ruin the health of your other houseplants.

The typical group of houseplants includes African Violets, Philodendron, Ferns, Jade Plant, Aloe Vera, Snake Plant (a.k.a. “Mother-in-law’s Tongues,” as the leaves look like swords), Palms and English Ivy. Except for African Violets, all the other plants are grown primarily for their leaves and do a great job of helping out by cleaning the air in your home; some add oxygen and remove toxins.

These plants do not require direct sun to thrive, but they do need repotting and clean soil every other year. If their root systems have outgrown their pots, it would be a great time to repot them as well. Fertilize according to the instructions that come with your plant. A simple, all-purpose time-release fertilizer is best to use on the plants in your home, including those that are brought in from your terrace or patio.


Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Your houseplants will communicate with you through their leaves.

If the houseplants need more light, their leaves will turn yellow and die. Those plants should be moved closer to a window. If you are over-watering, the plants will tell you by their leaves turning brown or getting soft or mushy. If that happens, remove those leaves immediately and hold back on water for up to three weeks.

Houseplants are survivors. They can take neglect, lack of water and very little light, but if you give them a combination of those three, plus fertilizer once a month, you will be rewarded with magnificent leaves, tons of new growth and with African Violets, a pom-pom of flowers.

Soil contains the insects that are brought into the house. Remember that for those of you who bring your outdoor plants in for the winter because of their sensitivity to colder temperatures, it is best to spray the plant and soil before bringing them indoors. If you forget to spray with an insecticide, you will have to spray indoors using an insecticide of your choice.

Citrus trees are the biggest carrier of insects. They will spread mealy bugs, scale, spider mites and ants to all your houseplants. So spray, spray, spray!

Recipe for Organic Neem Oil Spray for plants: Mix one-half ounce Neem oil, one-half teaspoon of Dr. Bronner’s Organic liquid soap, add two quarts of warm water, stir, funnel into a spray bottle and you are ready to spray.

Neem oil is a natural oil from the Neem tree, which is native to India, Nepal and Pakistan and can be purchased locally or online. It will slowly smother mites, scale, ants and other insects.

Should you have an infestation of any of these insects, you will need to use a heavy-duty insecticide, watered down to spray on your small trees and shrubs. Triazicide works best. Take the plant to a remote place to spray; do not get any of the spray on your walls or curtains.

Light and temperature also affect houseplants. Plants get used to less light, but hate drafts or a hot radiator. Houseplants will flourish in a heated home that is at least 60 degrees, with full to filtered sun. Add a bit of plant food and good clean soil to this mix and your houseplants will reward you with new leaves and flowers. Remember to rotate your plants for all-around structure and balance. It is lovely to see a blooming plant on a windowsill during the winter.

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