Reader Question: Caring for House Plants During the Winter


Today’s Reader Question comes from Ben in Northern Virginia:

A month ago I decided to buy three house plants; a Buddhist Palm, Corn Plant and King Maya Palm. In the past I’ve never been able to keep plants alive.  My house is very dry in the winter and very humid in the summer.  Anyway, the basics seem to be more complex than I ever thought they would be.  The side of the plants closest to the radiators are browning.  Do you recommend trimming the brown part of the leaves, the entire leaves, or moving the plant?  I’m uncertain if they are browning because of the heat, dryness, or other reasons. I have learned that my biggest mistake in the past was watering a little bit too often, rather than a lot less frequently.  As the plants would appear dry, they would eventually die of root rot. Here is a picture of the corn plant.

House Plants

With the corn plant just peel the brown leaves off. Plants, in general, don’t appreciate low humidity areas, especially near radiators. These areas tend to be hot and dry which is the antithesis of what most houseplants desire. They are generally from tropical regions of the world where the heat is high and so is the humidity. Light levels can be an issue with indoor house plants and sometimes it just takes a while for the plants to adjust to their new surroundings. In fact, it is common for ficus trees to drop all of their leaves if there are transported for long distances in the darkness of a tractor trailer container. It’s the plant’s protective mechanism; once the ficus trees reach their destination they leaf out and continue on their merry way.

Let’s discuss watering. In your past issues with watering, you are like most gardeners…you literally love your plants to death. You see them wilting so you water them when what they’re really trying to tell you is that their roots are dying from too much water. Unfortunately, the signs of underwatering and overwatering are the same. In the other pictures that you sent me, I noticed that your pots are decorative. Do they have drainage holes in them? It is imperative that the excess water be allowed to drain out of the soil; otherwise you end up with root rot and dead plants. King Maya Palm in particular likes for the soil to be dry before it’s watered again. Put your finger a couple of inches below the soil to make sure that it’s dry before you pull out the watering can.

Buddhist Pines like cool temperatures so be sure to keep that one away from the radiator. If there is anything that you can do to increase the humidity in your house during the winter, your house plants will thank you for it. I’d like to know what other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers do to keep their house plants thriving during the winter months. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at Happy gardening!

February 23, 2012Permalink Leave a comment