Yard and Garden: Handling Indoor Plants and Trees during Winter


January 5, 2017, 10:19 am | Richard Jauron, Greg Wallace

AMES, Iowa – Winter is here, and the weather outside is cold and unhospitable for many plants and trees. However, it’s a great time to begin new indoor-friendly plants and trees that can benefit from warmer indoor temperatures and winter sunlight.

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach horticulturists can help answer queries regarding growth and care for low-maintenance indoor plants. To have additional questions answered, contact the ISU Hortline at 515-294-3108 or hortline@iastate.edu.

How do I care for a Norfolk Island pine?

The Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla) thrives indoors when given good, consistent care. Place the Norfolk Island pine in a brightly lit location near an east, west or south window. Rotate the plant weekly to prevent the plant from growing toward the light and becoming lopsided. Thoroughly water the Norfolk Island pine when the soil surface becomes dry to the touch. Discard the excess water that drains out the bottom of the pot. From spring to early fall, fertilize the plant with a dilute fertilizer solution every two to four weeks.

A temperature of 55 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit is suitable for the Norfolk Island pine. Winter can be a challenging time for plants because of low relative humidity levels in most homes. Raise the humidity level around the Norfolk Island pine with a humidifier.

Another method is to place the plant on a saucer filled with pea gravel. Add water to the saucer, but keep the bottom of the pot above the water level. The evaporation of water from the saucer increases the relative humidity around the plant. Low relative humidity levels, insufficient light or excessively dry soil conditions may induce browning of branch tips and lead to the loss of the lower branches.

Norfolk Island Pine

How do I care for a ponytail palm?

The ponytail palm or elephant-foot tree (Beaucarnea recurvata) is an easy to grow, low maintenance houseplant. Plant characteristics include a swollen, bulb-like base and long, strap-like leaves that arch out from the stem, creating a fountain-like effect.  

The ponytail palm should be placed in a brightly lit location in the home. A site near an east or west window is usually a good location. The ponytail palm is a type of succulent. Water is stored in the plant’s swollen, bulb-like base. Allow the potting soil to dry out well between waterings.  In spring and summer, fertilize once or twice a month with a dilute fertilizer solution.

How do I care for a jade plant?

Place the jade plant (Crassula argentea) in a sunny window where it receives at least four hours of direct sunlight. The jade plant is a succulent that stores water in its foliage and stems. Overwatering (watering too frequently) is the most common problem. Allow the potting soil to dry between waterings in spring and summer. Reduce the frequency of watering by a few additional days in fall and winter. Fertilize once or twice a month with a dilute fertilizer solution in spring and summer.

How do I care for an umbrella tree?

The umbrella tree (Schefflera actinophylla) is native to rainforests in Australia and New Guinea. In the home, place the umbrella tree in bright, indirect light near an east, west or south window.  Allow the potting soil to dry moderately between waterings in spring and summer. Reduce watering frequency in fall and winter. Fertilize once or twice a month with a dilute fertilizer solution in spring and summer.  

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