Houseplants: Care and Tips

01 April 2020

Many people enjoy having plants inside their homes, especially when it is cold outside.

But sometimes houseplants need a little help. If they are struggling, houseplants will let you know. They show discolored leaves, and their stems droop – or no longer stand strong or tall. And there will be little or no growth.

"Plants send signals simply by the way they look," said Dawn Pettinelli, an Extension educator at the University of Connecticut. "If they aren't getting enough light, the leaves will yellow or turn brown and they will be slow to develop."

FILE: Workers check African violet plants before shipping in Nashville, TN. Holtkamp Greenhouses Inc. July 18,2007.
FILE: Workers check African violet plants before shipping in Nashville, TN. Holtkamp Greenhouses Inc. July 18,2007.

Leaves with the wrong colors can also mean other problems. These include root problems, insects hurting the plant, the wrong soil moisture, or bad light conditions or temperatures.

One of America's most popular houseplants is the African violet. It has violet, or purple-colored flowers. These plants do not like to be cold, but they also get stressed when it is too warm.

Pettinelli said they start to droop when they are cold. And they will not flower if they are hot.

Pruning: Plant haircuts

A good way to help renew tired houseplants is by giving them a plant "haircut." In the gardening world, cutting back plants is called "pruning."

Pruning serves many needs. Diana Alfuth is a gardening expert with University of Wisconsin Extension. She said pruning helps with shaping, removing dead matter, and keeping the plants from drooping.

"Pruning then results in strong new growth," she said. It also helps keep a plant bushier—meaning thicker and more round.

Slow-growing or tree-type houseplants do not do well with major cutting back, she said. Avoid pruning plants like palms, pines and orchids.

Pruning is also a way to start new plants. You can take the cuttings from pruning and grow new plants.

Want a houseplant that needs less care than others?

"Succulents are great," Alfuth said. They can go without water for long periods of time. They grow slowly, so they rarely need pruning or a new pot.

Houseplants diet

A houseplant's diet is important. So is the timing of when you give them fertilizers—nutrients for growth.

"Houseplants should not be fertilized during winter when days are short," Alfuth said. "Fertilize in late winter as days get longer and plants wake up and will need fertilizer to put on growth during spring."

And do not forget to dust.

"When plants start touching the floor, they start collecting dust," Pettinelli said. "If covered with dust, photosynthesis is reduced and the plants start losing some of their chemical energy for growth."

Watering plants too much is a leading cause of losing houseplants. So, be careful not to overwater. "Plants lose oxygen when they get too much water," Pettinelli said. "Especially the roots. They'll drown."

Check to see if your plants' roots are overgrown in the bottom of the pot. That means you should re-pot the plant in a new, larger pot. But be sure the pots have holes cut in the bottoms so that extra water can get out.

I'm Anne Ball.

Dean Fosdick with the Associated Press reported this story. Anne Ball adapted the story for VOA Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.

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Words in This Story

stem – n. the main long and thin part of a plant that rises above the soil and supports the leaves and flowers

moisture – n. a small amount of a liquid like water, that makes something wet or moist

stressed – adj. feeling worried or anxious, having a lot of pressure

succulents – n. plants with thick, heavy leaves or stems that store water

photosynthesis – n. the process by which a green plant turns water and carbon dioxide into food when exposed to light