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Garden Guide: 5 common winter houseplant problems (and 5 solutions)

Houseplants are a great way to chase away the winter blues ... at least when they look healthy and are doing well.

Alex Calamia

Jan 17, 2024, 12:00 PM

Updated 180 days ago

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Houseplants are a great way to chase away the winter blues ... at least when they look healthy and are doing well. Unfortunately, there are a few common problems in the winter that can keep your plants from looking their best. Do not lose hope though, your plants are still salvable with these easy fixes!

Sap-sucking bugs

I have met many people who are afraid to bring their outdoor plants into the house because they don’t want to drag bugs into their homes. It’s a valid concern, but I have not had a problem with bugs crawling out of my plants and into the rest of the house. The plants are far from bug-free though! Sap-sucking bugs are harmless for people and pets but can kill your precious plants. These bugs prefer to stay on your plants, where they feed off of their sugary sap. 
Mealy bugs are a gnarly looking insect. They have soft, white bodies and produce a waxy coating that looks like tiny styrofoam balls. These pests are often clustered on new growth and between leaf segments. The females do no move much once they find their spot. They’re easy to wipe off with a damp towel, but multiply fast. 
Other common sap-sucking bugs are aphids, which look like very tiny green spiders, and white flies, which will fly around your plant when disturbed. Aphids and white flies often hide in new growth and on the undersides of leaves. 
Horticulture spray that contains neem oil can control these sap-sucking pests. Insects use their bodies to breathe. These sprays cling to their exoskeletons, which suffocates them and suppresses their appetite. It’s a chemical-free way to control these pests.

Dry air in the home

Home heating systems are working overtime in the winter. Gardeners might think their tropical plants are loving the warm temperatures, but as the air warms up, it also dries out. The lower humidity will cause leaf drop on sensitive plants and make the leaves develop crunchy edges.
Place your plants away from radiators and elevate their pots over a saucer filled with rocks and water to add a little extra humidity. A humidifier is a more expensive solution that works too!

Underwatered plants

Some plants (like peace lilies) are great communicators and will wilt to let you know it is time to water them. Other plants (like calathea) hold grudges. They won’t show any signs of damage when they are underwatered, only to get crunchy and drop leaves weeks later.
Make sure your plants aren’t root-bound because containers filled with roots will dry out more quickly. Also give yourself some forgiveness if you miss a few waterings. With time, most plants will recover. 

Not enough sunlight

Plants that require high light levels might struggle during the winter even along your brightest windows. Winter days aren’t just cloudier, they’re also much shorter. The average houseplant owner does not need to invest in grow lights, but if you’re growing plants with high light requirements or in a spot without winters, it might be time to look for some extra lighting.

Wrong plant for your space

Not every houseplant will thrive in average house conditions. It’s fun to experiment with colorful and high maintenance plants, but if you are a new houseplant owner, start easy.
Local, family-owned nurseries often have staff that are very knowledgeable and are stocked with plants that are well taken care of. It’s hard to keep a plant happy inside a home if it’s coming home from the store sick and damaged. Investing a few extra dollars on a healthy plant is worth it!
Hopefully these tips are a helpful start. Feel free to browse through all of our Garden Guide articles for more tips to hold you over during these cold winer weeks - and inspire you this spring! 


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