Winter Care of House Plants

I have had a lot of questions on dead houseplants, my answer is you have over watered, under watered, too much light, not enough light, too cold, too warm, drafty conditions, too much fertilizer now, etc. Hopefully you do not think I am full of it! It all depends on what type of houseplant you have.

More houseplants die from over watering than from any other cause. Adjusting your watering routine once houseplants are move back inside the house is essential for the plant’s continued survival. Most plants benefit when the soil is allowed to dry slightly between watering. This dryness ensures that oxygen penetrates to the plant’s root system, oxygen that is just as essential for good plant growth as water. Often a plant can be allowed to wilt slightly before it is watered; thus, giving an indication when water is needed.

No matter if the plant is a cactus or an azalea that needs continual, even moisture, always water plants thoroughly. A thorough watering wets the entire soil ball in the container and leaches away excess fertilizer salts built up in the soil. Fertilizer salts can burn roots resulting in burnt or dried leaf edges and plants that wilt, even though they seem to have plenty of water. I water by placing the container in an empty sink, adding water until the water comes through the drainage hole.

A plant that needed watering once a day while outside in July and August may only require watering once a week in the house during winter. Test the soil moisture levels before watering. If the top one-inch of soil feels dry or the plant begins to wilt slightly, most plants will be ready for another watering.

Also keep in mind that some plants, like ferns, Rex begonias, Prayer Plant and Calathea to name a few, require high humidity to grow well so mist once or twice a day or group plants together. Indoor humidity levels are usually lower than those in a greenhouse, in fact during winter when furnaces are running, indoor air can be as dry as desert air.

Fertilizer, easy. Do not fertilize during the winter. Avoid over-fertilization, plants require less fertilizer under low light conditions and for houseplants, almost all indoor locations are “low light” when compared to outside light levels, especially during the winter. Burned or dried leaf margins and wilted plants can also be a sign of root damage to the plant caused by salt buildup in the soil from over fertilization.

One thing to remember for most cactus and many succulents are they thrive if kept cool during the winter months. Lower temperatures encourage the development of sturdy plants and stimulate flower bud development. Most cactus do best at temperatures from 45-55 degrees Fahrenheit, however, they still require high light conditions during this period, so a cool bedroom or porch with a south facing window would be ideal.

Gardening Learning Curve

I remembered long ago in high school when I went to actually test my hand at gardening, all I needed to do was scrape the sod off of the area where I wanted a garden and plant, right? Never mind that we had clay for soil, that I had never read a gardening magazine or book, and that I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I was pretty sure it couldn’t be that difficult. I chose a spot, roto-tilled the sod, and transplanted some purple irises which were growing out in the shelterbelt, which, of course, grew quite well, because the old irises grow anywhere along with yucca, coneflower, and asters.

I’m victorious! Now I order from every garden catalog I got, taking little note of zones or water needs or growing conditions. I’m not going to mention how much money I lost on testing the hardiness zone for trees and perennials. And that’s just the plants!

Every spin-ny, flower-y, bug-gy, sil-ly garden ornament the stores sold showed up in my gardens. It looked like a dollar store had thrown up in my yard. But I persisted. I started reading gardening magazines and books. I learned about amending the soil, compost, zones, and growing needs—all the important things a successful gardener needs to know. As the garden grows, so does the gardener, they say. I’m here to say the reverse is equally true.

Many years later, the cheap tacky stuff is all gone (some people may have a different opinion), and I am slowly finding my voice in the gardens that surround my house. Each year, I get rid of more grass and replace it with more color and vegetables. I subscribe to the wabi-sabi Japanese theory that there is beauty in imperfection. I like rustic, handmade, repurposed garden art (maybe I am too lazy to throw it away). If something breaks or rots, that’s fine. Nothing lasts forever, nor is it meant to. My gardens are not perfect by any means. Perfect is perfectly boring.

Upgrade Your Furnace

Heating your home accounts for an inordinate portion of your utility bill. So it pays to choose the most efficient heating system possible. This doesn’t necessarily mean you should upgrade to a different type of furnace.

Here’s a rundown of the most commonly used heating systems, along with their advantages and disadvantages, to help you make the most appropriate choice for your home, climate and wallet.


Also known as forced air, furnaces are the most commonly used heating systems in the U.S. because they’re reliable and relatively inexpensive. Gas furnaces are rated for efficiency by their annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) rating. This shows how much energy is successfully converted to usable heat.

If your furnace needs to be replaced, the silver lining is that modern furnaces are more efficient than ever, and some premium models even reach an AFUE rating of 97 percent. When purchasing a furnace, choose one that’s appropriately sized for your home so that it doesn’t put undue wear and tear on your system or waste energy.


Boilers use water to generate and distribute heat through pipes and radiators, heating the air, floors, wall and baseboards as it travels in a loop. They can be powered via natural gas, electricity or propane, and they use the following systems to distribute heat:

  • Steam radiators are the old-fashioned metal things you’ve seen along the walls in older buildings.
  • Hot water radiators are the newer reincarnation and allow more control and versatility.
  • Hydronic radiant floor heating treats the entire floor of a room like a giant radiator, using tubing under the flooring to distribute heat to toasty toes. While efficient, hydronic radiant floor heating is expensive to install and replace.

Heat pumps

These extremely efficient systems take advantage of existing temperatures (either outdoors, underwater or underground) to heat, cool and humidify your home.

There are three types of heat pumps:

  • Air-source heat pumps are the most common and circulate refrigerant between the outdoor heat pump and indoor air handler.
  • Split ductless systems use one to four indoor air handlers, which are mounted high up on walls and controlled by a remote.
  • Geothermal systems are incredibly efficient because they take advantage of temperatures in the ground, pond or a well, but they aren’t practical or affordable for most homeowners.

When selecting a heat pump system, consider the size, noise output and efficiency rating. The heating efficiency is measured by heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF), and the cooling efficiency is measured by seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER).