Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

Don’t Feed Houseplants When They’re Resting

20151018AIn the fall, days grow shorter and often grayer as well, so much less light is available to your houseplants. This causes them to grow more and more slowly and many will in fact stop growing entirely until the days lengthen again. Some may actually go entirely dormant, but most are essentially just “resting”.

This is not a good time to “feed” (fertilize) your plants. By adding fertilizer now, you’ll be stimulating new growth… but the new growth that appears will tend to be etiolated: pale with abnormally long internodes, something you’ll probably feel the need to prune off later.

For that reason, it’s better to “starve” your plants a bit between late October and late February (in the Northern Hemisphere). Cut your fertilizer treatments entirely. When they do start to show new growth, usually by early March at the latest, you can start fertilizing again.

There is however an exception to the rule that it is best not to fertilize houseplants in the winter. If you’re growing them under lights (florescent lamps, for example), giving them long days even in winter, most will continue to grow year round and thus will require fertilizing year round as well.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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