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Houseplant RX, Part One

Houseplants on a wooden shelf near a sunny window.
Houseplants woes generally arise from two sources. Find out which one might be affecting yours and how to remedy it.

You've joined the houseplant bandwagon! Now that your greenery has been growing indoors for awhile, you're beginning to notice problems, like spindly growth, brown leaf tips, poor flowering and wilting. In this first of two episodes on indoor plant care, Charlie will share the main causes of poorly growing houseplants and some easy solutions.

The reasons your houseplants may not be growing well stem from two separate sources: environmental conditions and pests. Both of these factors have solutions, so you can remedy your plants in need of rescue! In this episode, we'll handle the environmental factors, of which there are four:

Light levels

If you have a leggy, straggly houseplant, it may be due to not enough light, especially during Vermont's winters. Move your houseplant to a sunnier room or spot or even purchase a grow light.

Do note that the opposite problem can also occur; your plants may get too much sunlight. If that's the case, the plant could end up with scorched leaves as some plants like lower light and shady spots. Remedy this by moving your plant to a less sunny room. The key is finding the right light level for certain plants.


It's a fact that most folks overwater their houseplants. In our attempts to nurture our plants, this practice will actually lead to root rot and soggy bottoms. Instead, during winter months, remind yourself to resist your good-intentioned  overwatering habits and cut back. In fact, go ahead and let your plants dry out a bit until the plant soil is dry to the touch.  


Though this isn't a houseplant task to take on just yet, you can set a reminder in your calendars for spring to fertilize houseplants! Right now, though, you may be noticing a white, crusty layer on the soil which is a built-up salts from previous fertilizing. Try repotting your plants in spring with new potting soil and wash out the pots to give them a fresh start.

Cold drafts

A lot of the houseplant varieties we welcome into our homes are much comfier in warmer and even tropical climes. If you keep tropical plants indoors, remember that they especially don't like cold drafts. Move them away from doors and windows that are open frequently in winter and your plants will grow much better.

Q: I always enjoy your journal on VPR, but have to really take exception to your recommendations to intentionally spread aggressive, non-native anemone plants and seeds in forests, wildflower meadows and river corridors. I believe it is a practice that should not be encouraged. — Robert, in Hinesburg

While it is true that the Japanese anenome is not a native plant and it is fairly aggressive, it is not considered a true invasive. Still, you don't want to plant this variety along streams and in wildflower areas. The native anemone is not invasive but aggressive, as well, and does still spread. If you choose to plant them, keep them under your watch and make sure they aren't crowding out other natives.

Q: I have an aphid problem. Do you have any recommendations to get rid of them? I have used an organic spray that has not worked. — Tamara, in Williston

In the next episode of ATG: Houseplant RX, Part Two, we will tackle the other huge factor in houseplant problems, which is what your dealing with right now, and that is pests. Products can do a great job at tackling aphid issues, though, so do go ahead and try insecticidal soap, horticultural oil and neem oil. They are all effective but aphids are really tenacious. You may need to treat the plants a few times, then clean out your pots and put in fresh potting soil, too, to get rid of aphids and their eggs.  

a grey line

All Things Gardening is powered by you, the listener! Send your gardening questions and conundrums and Charlie may answer them in upcoming episodes. You can also leave a voicemail with your gardening question by calling VPR at (802) 655-9451.

Hear All Things Gardening during Weekend Edition Sunday with VPR host Mary Engisch, Sunday mornings at 9:35.

Have questions, comments or tips?Send us a messageor get in touch by tweeting us @vprnet.

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Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.
Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.
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