Winter care of houseplants

Q. I have a corn plant, spider plant, philodendron and croton – all common houseplants. How do I take care of these during the winter?

Angela from Youngstown

A. Well, for most homeowners, we need to explain the corn plant is not what most would think of as a corn plant. It is a type of houseplant in the Dracaena family (same family as asparagus).

With that knowledge, most of our common houseplants are annuals somewhere in the world and most are foliage plants that grow and look attractive without high levels of light.

They are able to survive inside our homes with little care, but have some basic needs.

Ensuring these plants have the proper light, temperature, water and humidity levels will ensure success and a somewhat tropical escape from northeast Ohio winters.

Light: Different types of houseplants require different lighting situations. Some need a lot of light. In that case, we need to choose a southern-facing window and keep turning the plant to give it maximum light exposure. Other types need less light and can survive quite well in an east- or west-facing window. The distance from the window is determined by each plant’s light requirements. One thing that helps all plants is washing your windows inside and out to allow the most light through and removing shears.

Temperature: Most of our common houseplants will do best somewhere between the 65-72 F range but like cooler temperatures at night. Check the area where plants are located for drafts and air from registers. Use flagging tape or a thin strip of newspaper to be sure there is not excessive air movement. If light levels are low, temperature is even more important.

Water: Over watering houseplants is one of the biggest issues I see. Try to practice dry watering. That means you do not apply water until the soil is dry to the touch. But you need to water it before the plant starts to droop or wilt. The mistake we all make is trying to have a watering schedule for house plants. Do not water on a schedule. Use your finger to test the soil. Only add water if the soil is dry.

Humidity: Your home is dry this time of year, with humidity levels somewhere in the teens. This causes plants to lose water rapidly. A humidity level near 50 percent will help reduce water loss and the browning of the edges of leaves. Put saucers of water with rocks (to increase evaporation) around plants to increase humidity.

There are more tips about repotting house plants, drainage issues and more on this multifaceted website:

Eric Barrett is OSU Extension educator for agriculture and natural resources in Mahoning County. Winter hours for the Plant and Pest Diagnostic Clinic vary. Submit questions to the clinic at 330-533-5538 or drop samples off to the OSU Extension Office in Canfield.

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