Taking Care of the Plants Inside

Taking Care of the Plants Inside

Winter is probably the easiest time of year to kill the plant you brought in from the cold. And, the fastest way is by overwatering. Grueling growing conditions like lower light levels, dry air, shorter days and chilly temperatures really stress out plants, which makes them susceptible to insect and disease problems. Then the pests finish them off.

The secret to helping plants survive winter is adjusting care routines to suit seasonal growing conditions. Here are a few things to consider.


In winter, the sun is lower in the sky and light levels near windows drop up to 50 percent. Houseplants that grow near a sunny eastern or northern window in summer may need a southern or western exposure in winter. Likewise, tropical plants that were able to withstand direct sun outside will need to be in the brightest spots possible or may require extra lighting inside.  Plants are likely to lose leaves in order to adjust to the light change. The new leaves that grow back will be accustomed to the lower light. Remember that if those plants are going back outside in the spring. They will need to be shaded for a while or the new leaves will sunburn.

To help plants cope with changing light levels:

  • Move plants closer to windows, if possible.
  • Clean windows to allow maximum light transmission.
  • Shift plants to new locations near brighter windows for winter.
  • Wash dust off plants so leaves can make maximum use of available light.
  • Add artificial light. Fluorescent bulbs provide adequate light. They’re cheaper than traditional grow lights and produce less heat. Position bulbs 4 to 12 inches away from plants for effective results.


Most of these plants and prefer temperatures between 65° F and 75° F during the day and about 10-15 degrees cooler at night. For tropical plants, temperatures below 50°F can cause problems. Hopefully, you had the chance to bring them in with the first cool spell a month ago.

Adjust thermostats for your comfort, but remember your plants need some consideration.

  • Avoid placing plants near cold drafts or heat sources.
  • Keep plants several inches away from exterior windows.


Homes may offer only 5-10 percent relative humidity in winter. Houseplants like 40-50 percent. Signs of low humidity stress on plants include brown leaf tips and appearance of pests like spider mites.

  • Raise humidity around plants with a room humidifier.
  • Place plants on a pebble-lined tray filled with water. Keep the water level just below the pebbles. As the water evaporates, it raises humidity around plants.
  • Mist plants with room-temperature water. Avoid wetting walls or furniture.
spides plant
A spider plant on a coffee table. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS


The most common problem plants suffer from in winter is overwatering. Most plants need soil to dry out almost completely before watering. How can you tell if plants need water?

  • Don’t just spot test the soil surface. Plants need water when the root zone is dry. Poke your finger into soil up to 2 inches. If the soil is dry, water.
  • Lift the pot. Soil is lighter when it’s dry. Learn how wet soil feels by lifting pots immediately after watering.
  • Exceptions to drying out between watering: Potted citrus and ferns require consistently moist soil. Always research plant moisture needs if you’re unsure.

When you do water, never allow plants to sit overnight in water that collects in the drainage saucer.

Fertilizer, Pruning and Repotting

Save these tasks until spring. Winter growth is usually leggy. Prune and fertilize to encourage bushy growth when the sunlight and temperatures increase. The right time to repot most tropical and houseplants is during periods of active growth – in spring and summer. The exception is potted woody plants that go completely dormant in winter. Transplant those prior to bud break in early spring.

Propagating Plants by Leaf and Cane

Propagating Plants by Leaf and Cane

The subject of plant propagation by leaf and cane is a continuation from my article on propagating plants by layering, written in late October.  Plants can be generated in multiple ways with leaf and cane techniques emerging as a possible indoor winter and early spring project.  Not all plants can be propagated with a leaf or parts of leaves.  Fortunately, some of the plants that can are ones we all enjoy growing indoors or in protected areas outdoors, like a covered porch and other similar locations.  Do an assessment of indoors windows with bright light and a few hours of sunlight for the best success.  If you are fortunate to have a backyard greenhouse that is heated, you may want to try it there.

One of the simplest ways to grow a new plant is by clipping a leaf and petiole section off an existing plant that has certain characteristics you like (bloom color or the growth of the plant).  African violets and sedum are plants that can be easily propagated in this manner.  The length of petiole connected to the leaf should be around 1 ¼ – 1 ½ inches in length, this portion of the leaf will be planted in potting mix.  I would suggest planting two in a small to medium sized container to increase the chance of a successful rooting and the new plant establishing.  When the new plant leaves have emerged, usually in 6 – 10 weeks, they are clipped away from the original leaf and petiole.  Some will reuse the original and replant, but I tend to discard and begin with a new one. 

Plants being propagated by leaf cuttings.
Plants being propagated by leaf cuttings. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS

Next up is trying to propagate using a leaf without the petiole.  This form of propagation can occur with plant that possess fleshy leaves that are thicker, with more energy to produce a new plant.  The jade plant, snake plant and African violet are examples of plants that root and form new plants successfully in this way.  Place a leaf or a piece of leaf vertically into a container filled with slightly damp plant media.  Be sure the leaf midvein is placed into the soil as this will likely be the site of the new plant’s emergence. 

Cane cuttings are yet another process for propagating a new plant.  If you have ever grown a Dieffenbachia, better known as dumb cane or corn plant, they can become leggy and require staking to keep limbs from bending away from the center of the plant.  If you look closely, you may see dormant adventitious buds (nodes).  These buds will be the future leaf emergence area for the new plant.  With a sharp clean knife cut remove a 6 – 10-inch section of the stem.  The top leaf areas and smaller stem section can be removed and discarded. 

Next, cut so that two stem sections are together with at least 2 nodes.  Place the sections horizontally or vertically with the bottom third of the section indented into the potting media for go plant to soil contain.  Make sure the node is facing upward.  Once rooted with new leaves emerging, you may transplant them into a selected pot for future growth and establishment. 

As mid to late spring arrives and the danger of frost passes, you can move the plants to a covered porch or under tall shade trees with filter sunlight for the summer and early fall.  Enjoy creating new plants and maybe share a few with family and friends!

The Ultimate Poinsettia Care Guide

The Ultimate Poinsettia Care Guide

The flower of the Christmas season is the poinsettia, a tropical plant from Mexico that changes its leaf color when the daylength changes.  Poinsettias were originally noticed for their bright red color and are now available in many colors, shapes and sizes, thanks to decades of work by plant breeders.  As much as we love them, caring for poinsettias during and after the holiday can be a challenge.  Here are a few tips to extend the bloom for a longer period and encourage it to grow for the months to come!

Photo credit: Tyler Jones.
  • Provide plenty of sunlight.  A sunny window facing south is ideal.  Be careful to not let the leaves touch the glass. Keep temperatures around 55-60F at night and 65-70F during the day.
  • Keep soil slightly moist on the surface.  Wait until the surface feels dry before watering, then add just enough to soak in.  If water collects below the pot, pour it out.  Those decorative wrappers make it hard to tell, so be sure to check.  However, don’t wait for wilting before watering as that is too dry.  Both overwatering and underwatering can lead to wilting and excessive leaf drop.  Check the soil each day.
  • Don’t fertilize while “blooming”.  While the colored parts of poinsettias are actually modified leaves called bracts and the true flowers are the tiny yellow centers, we often refer to the entire non-green portion as a bloom.  The plant can maintain its nutritional needs throughout the flowering time without additional fertilizer.
  • In the spring, cut the plant back, fertilize and move outside.  Remember, poinsettias require temperatures to always stay above 60F.  If we receive any cool nights, bring it in for the night.  Let the rootball become quite dry throughout April.  You may have to move it under a cover if the April showers are occurring every few days.

If you want to try your luck at re-blooming, re-pot it in a slightly larger container and cut it back to about 4” high in mid-May.  Keep it in nearly full sun.  A little shading in the heat of the day is helpful.  Water consistently and fertilize every two weeks with a water-soluble, complete fertilizer.  As it grows, you will need to pinch the plant back every six weeks or so until October, I usually remove about half of the stem that has grown out.  To get coloration in time for Christmas, find something dark to cover the plant or move it to a dark location each day.  The poinsettia must be in complete darkness from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. until the leaves start to turn color, usually 10 weeks. That means moving or covering and uncovering at the same time every day.  Any deviation will delay the color change.  Once you see a complete set of leaves coloring, the plant can be exposed to regular daylengths.  If this sounds like too much work, spent poinsettias do make good compost and garden centers will be happy to sell you a new one!

Remember, poinsettia sap does contain a latex-like chemical that can cause allergic reactions.  Small animals, young children, and adults with allergies should not handle poinsettias.  If eaten, get medical attention immediately.

Houseplants Struggling?  Take Them Outside in the Summer. 

Houseplants Struggling?  Take Them Outside in the Summer. 

It seems like every time I pick up a home and garden type magazine, the cover photo is dotted with flowering orchids and indoor foliage plants that are inevitably in pristine condition.  However, years of experience troubleshooting issues with both my own interior plants and those for clients tell a different story.  All too often, indoor potted plants languish for years, barely alive, until they finally succumb.  I’ve taken several to the plant graveyard just past the edge of the back yard because of this exact scenario.  In recent times though, I’ve figured out a way to mostly avoid pitiful looking indoor plants – take them outside in the warm months!

To appreciate the perks of getting your indoor plants outdoors, it’s helpful to first think about why most interior situations aren’t very conducive to plant growth.  There are three primary reasons houseplants fail:  not enough light, improper watering, and low humidity.  Most plant species grown for interiorscapes hail from the tropics where they grow in the understory of large trees, receive bright, filtered sunlight, and experience abundant moisture and humidity.  These conditions are VERY hard to mimic in the typical American house unless you huddle all your plants near windows, take steps to increase humidity (which doesn’t play super well with furniture and other household items), and really tune in your watering.  Taking indoor plants outside to play in the Panhandle summers just really makes the whole situation much easier!

A Jade Plant that had languished indoors during the winter beginning to perk up outside! Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.

Now that you’ve made the decision to move your indoor plants out, figuring out where to site them is the next step.  I’ve found that, with few exceptions, houseplants prefer to be in a bright area but away from direct sunlight – under mature trees, on a covered porch, anywhere that doesn’t get direct sunlight will do!  It is also a great idea to place plants near a watering source.  If a hose doesn’t easily reach the spot or it’s inconvenient to tote a watering can to them, your plants won’t get watered regularly and will suffer.  You’ll be surprised how much water plants use when they’re in conditions conducive to growth so be sure to check pots every couple of days to prevent droughty conditions!   Once in these new and improved growing conditions, your houseplants will also respond very well to a little extra fertilizer.  A good general prescription is a topdressing of a slow-release fertilizer using the recommended label rate as soon as you bring them outside and following that up once each month with a supplemental liquid fertilizer. 

Keeping houseplants happy in the Florida summer is easy and begins with getting them outside.  Find a spot with bright, indirect light, keep them watered well, add a little fertilizer, and watch them grow like they never have before!  For more information on growing houseplants or any other horticultural or agricultural topic, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension office.  Happy gardening!

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE Program Summary: Houseplants

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE Program Summary: Houseplants

Houseplants can soften up the interior of your home and help clean the air.  They can also supplement your holiday decorations and help create stunning focal points.  To help determine what plants do best under certain conditions and to give pointers on plant care, this month’s Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! was all about houseplants.

spides plant

A spider plant on a coffee table. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS

Environmental Conditions for Houseplants

Unless you live in a glass house, you’ll probably want to choose houseplants that do well in low light conditions.  A guide for what light level different houseplants prefer can be found on the Gardening Solutions Light for Houseplants page.  This page also provides useful tips on supplemental lighting.

Some houseplants are better at cleaning the air than others.  A list of houseplants that do a good job improving indoor air quality can be found on the Gardening Solutions Houseplants That Clean the Air page.

The best way to determine if your houseplants need water is your own green thumb or whatever finger you choose to stick in the potting mix, but for some interesting information on outdoor soil moisture meters check out this informative publication on soil moisture sensors.

Houseplants need a good quality, well-drained potting mix to thrive.  Tips on selecting a potting mix can be found on the Gardening Solutions Container Media page.

Houseplant Pests

One of the best ways to rid houseplants of insect pests is to set the plants outside for a few days and let the pests move on.  For some information on pest control products in and around the home check out the publication Natural Products for Managing Landscape and Garden Pests in Florida.

Fungus gnats are mainly a nuisance, but some species can feed on living plant tissue.  Darkwinged fungus gnats are known to feed on ferns, orchids, and geraniums.

Houseplant Propagation

One way to increase your houseplant population and save a few dollars is to propagate your own plants.  The University of Florida/IFAS created the Plant Propagation Glossary to help with any propagation questions you may have.

Air layering is a propagation technique that not only allows the prospective plant to thrive from the nutrients of the mother plant, but it also saves space.

moth orchid

A moth orchid (Phalaenopsis spp.) outdoors. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS

Specific Species Info

Orchids in the genus Phalaenopsis are easier to care for than other genera of orchids.  The American Orchid Society provides some great tips on caring for orchids indoors.  Some people choose to water their orchids with ice cubes.  The Ohio State University has a publication that provides some more insight on watering Phalaenopsis orchids with ice cubes.

A lot of cacti do well indoors.  A popular cactus during the holiday season is Christmas cactus.  Christmas cactus have interesting foliage, but their blooms are what people want to see.  Some tips on getting your Christmas cactus to bloom on time and general care information can be found in this Christmas Cactus Preparation fact sheet.

Have you ever wanted to grow fruit trees indoors or do you want some tips on bringing containerized fruit trees indoors for the winter?  The Growing Fruit Crops in Containers publication provides some good tips on growing fruit trees indoors.

Unless you have a house with a lot of windows or a sunroom, plumeria don’t make the best houseplants.  They need at least six hours of sunlight per day and need to be at least three years old to bloom.  If you are interested in propagating plumeria, then check out this publication on propagating plumeria from cuttings.

Landscape  Q & A

Landscape Q & A

On August 12, 2021, our panel answered questions on a wide variety of landscape topics. Maybe you are asking the same questions, so read on!

Ideas on choosing plants

What are some perennials that can be planted this late in the summer but will still bloom through the cooler months into fall?

Duranta erecta ‘Sapphire Showers’ or ‘Gold Mound’, firespike, Senna bicapsularis, shrimp plant, lion’s ear

Where can native plants be obtained?

Dune sunflower, Helianthus debilis. Photo credit: Mary Salinas UF/IFAS Extension.

Gardening Solutions: Florida Native Plants  – see link to FANN: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/ornamentals/native-plants.html

What are some evergreen groundcover options for our area?

Mondo grass, Japanese plum yew, shore juniper, ajuga, ferns such as autumn fern.

What are some ideas for partial morning sun butterfly attracting tall flowers to plant now?

Milkweed, salt and pepper plant, swamp sunflower, dune sunflower, ironweed, porterweed, and salt bush.

I’m interested in moving away from a monoculture lawn. What are some suggestions for alternatives?

Perennial peanut, powderpuff mimosa, and frogfruit.

We are new to Florida and have questions about everything in our landscape.

Florida-Friendly-Landscaping TM Program and FFL Web Apps: https://ffl.ifas.ufl.edu/


UF IFAS Gardening Solutions: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/

What are some of the top trends in landscaping today?

Houseplants, edible gardens, native plants, food forests, attracting wildlife, container gardening, and zoysiagrass lawns


Artwork broccoli is a variety that produces small heads. Photo credit: Mary Salinas UF/IFAS Extension.

What vegetables are suitable for fall/winter gardening?

Cool Season Vegetables: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/edibles/vegetables/cool-season-vegetables.html

North Florida Gardening Calendar: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/EP451%20%20%20

Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/vh021

How can I add herbs to my landscape?

Herbs in the Florida Garden: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/edibles/vegetables/herbs.html

My figs are green and hard. When do they ripen?

Why Won’t My Figs Ripen: https://www.lsuagcenter.com/profiles/rbogren/articles/page1597952870939

What is best soil for raised bed vegetable gardens?

Gardening in Raised Beds: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/EP472

And there are always questions about weeds

How can I eradicate cogongrass?

Chamber bitter is a troublesome warm season weed in our region. Photo credit: Brantlee Spakes Richter, University of Florida, Bugwood.org

Cogongrass: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/WG202

Is it okay to use cardboard for weed control?

The Cardboard Controversy: https://gardenprofessors.com/the-cardboard-controversy/

What is the best way to control weeds in grass and landscape beds?

Weed Management Guide for Florida Lawns: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/EP141

Improving Weed Control in Landscape Planting Beds: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdf/EP/EP52300.pdf

Landscape practices

Can ground water be brackish and stunt plants?

Reclaimed Water Use in the Landscape: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/ss545

How can I prevent erosion from rainwater runoff? 

Stormwater Runoff Control – NRCS: https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/water/?cid=nrcs144p2_027171

Rain Gardens: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/design/types-of-gardens/rain-gardens.html

And https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/pdf/articles/rain-garden-manual-hillsborough.pdf

What is the best time of the year to propagate flowering trees in zone 8B?

Landscape Plant Propagation Information Page – UF/IFAS Env. Hort: https://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/database/lppi/

Which type of mulch works best on slopes greater than 3 percent?

Landscape Mulches: How Quickly do they Settle?: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/FR052

When should bulbs be fertilized?

Bulbs and More – UI Extension: https://web.extension.illinois.edu/bulbs/planting.cfm

Should I cut the spent blooms of agapanthus?

Agapanthus, extending the bloom time: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/ornamentals/agapanthus.html


Plant questions

Monarch caterpillar munching on our native sandhill milkweed, Asclepias humistrata. Photo credit: Mary Salinas, UF IFAS Extension.

I planted native milkweed and have many monarch caterpillars. Should I protect them or leave them in nature?

It’s best to leave them in place. Featured Creatures: Monarch Butterfly: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdf/IN/IN780/IN780-Dxyup8sjiv.pdf

How does Vinca (periwinkle) do in direct sun? Will it make it through one of our panhandle summers? Can I plant in late August?

Periwinkles  and  No more fail with Cora series: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/ornamentals/periwinkles.html#:~:text=Plant%20your%20periwinkles%20where%20they,rot%20if%20irrigated%20too%20frequently.

Insect and disease pests

What to do if you get termites in your raised bed?

The Facts About Termites and Mulch: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/IN651

How to combat fungus?

Guidelines for ID and Management of Plant Disease Problems: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/mg442

Are there preventative measures to prevent diseases when the humidity is very high and it is hot?

Fungi in Your Landscape by Maxine Hunter: http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/marionco/2020/01/16/fungi-in-your-landscape/


If you missed an episode, check out our playlist on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bp0HfdEkIQw&list=PLhgoAzWbtRXImdFE8Jdt0jsAOd-XldNCd