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FAQs - Houseplants

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When can I move my amaryllis plant outdoors and should I plant it in my garden?

My amaryllis bulbs are finally blooming. How do I keep them in flower as long as possible and what do I do with them after they are finished blooming?

Is there anything special I need to do to my houseplants before I move them outdoors for the summer?

What is the secret to keeping my poinsettias healthy and looking fresh over the holidays? And then what can I do with it?

The leaves on some of my houseplants are turning yellow and dropping off.  My plants also look kind of spindly.  Do you think it would help if I left the light on in the room during the evening to help increase the amount of light they receive?

I am getting pretty frustrated because my Christmas cactus never flowers.  I saw my neighbor's plant yesterday and hers is full of buds that are getting ready to bloom. What am I doing wrong?  

I bought a cyclamen plant at the grocery store. I have never had one before, and I hope you can tell me how to care for it.

My Ficus tree spent the summer outdoors. When I moved it back indoors many leaves turned yellow and fell off the plant. Now I am noticing a sticky coating on the leaves and on the floor around the plant. What is happening to my houseplant?

What is the best fertilizer to use on my houseplants and how often should I feed them?

I am never sure how much water to give to my plants. How often should I water them?

When can I move my amaryllis plant outdoors and should I plant it in my garden?

Your amaryllis can safely be moved outdoors after the danger of frost has past. Initially place it in the shade and slowly introduce it to full sun. Sink the entire pot in the ground if you want to plant it in your landscape. Keep it watered and fertilize twice a month.  For amaryllis to bloom around the holidays, you need to begin the dormant period around mid-August. Stop watering and move the pot to a dark location where it can be kept at about 55° F. The leaves will begin to turn yellow and die back. Keep the bulb on the dry side. After about 8-10 weeks of dormancy you should see a new flower stalk emerging. Move the container to a sunny location and begin to water and fertilize.  It is not necessary to repot the bulb. They bloom better when potbound.

 My amaryllis bulbs are finally blooming. How do I keep them in flower as long as possible and what do I do with them after they are finished blooming?

To prolong the bloom period, provide bright indirect sunlight and cooler temperatures (around 65◦ F).  Cut back the flower stalks but not the green, strappy leaves after the flowers fade. The leaves produce food to strengthen the bulb so that they bloom again. Treat them as houseplants and provide sunlight, water, and fertilizer up until you want to prompt the bulbs to go dormant, as a dormancy period is necessary for them to rebloom. If you like, after the danger of frost has past you can move them outdoors for the summer. Stop watering in late summer or early fall to initiate dormancy, cut back the leaves when they turn yellow and place the containers in a dark, cool spot for about 8 weeks.  To initiate growth, place them back into sunlight, begin to water and fertilize again. They should flower about 6-8 weeks later.

Is there anything special I need to do to my houseplants before I move them outdoors for the summer?

Take this opportunity to repot plants that have outgrown their containers.  Move them into the next larger size pot.  Use soil-less potting mixture and make sure the new container has good drainage.  Groom plants by removing dead or dying foliage; if necessary add fresh potting mixture and mix a slow release granular fertilizer labeled for houseplants into the top 1-2 inches of soil.  Initially, place plants in the shade, where they will receive some filtered sunlight and then slowly introduce them into more sun. Not all houseplants can handle intense sunlight.  Move them to a shadier location if you start to see bleaching of the leaves. Check containers often to see if they are dry.  Plants may need to be watered on a daily basis during hot, dry weather.  Move houseplants outdoors when nighttime temperatures are consistently in the mid to upper fifties or if a frost is predicted.

 What is the secret to keeping my poinsettias healthy and looking fresh over the holidays? And then what can I do with it?


Important points to consider when taking care of a poinsettia are proper light, water, and room temperatures. They prefer bright, indirect light, such as filtered direct sunlight through a sheer curtain. Poinsettia plants should be watered thoroughly; taking care not to drown them.  Remove the decorative foil from the bottom of the container to ensure the water will drain.  Also, avoid letting them sit in water-filled saucers, which can lead to root problems. Water only when the soil feels dry to the touch. During bloom time keep them at normal room temperatures between 65-75 degrees F.  Do not place poinsettias near a drafty door or window and never by a heat source such as a heat vent. Fertilizer is not necessary during blooming. After the holiday season is over and the bracts begin to fall, you can either discard the plant or keep it as a houseplant.  For information on growing the plant for a second season of bloom, refer to our publication (PDF) HG 30: Holiday Plant Care: Poinsettia.

The leaves on some of my houseplants are turning yellow and dropping off.  My plants also look kind of spindly.  Do you think it would help if I left the light on in the room during the evening to help increase the amount of light they receive?

It does sound like your plants are suffering because they are not receiving sufficient light.  Incandescent bulbs are not the best source of supplemental light. If possible, move the plants to an eastern or southern exposure. Be careful not to place them in direct sunlight; houseplants get sunburn too. Fluorescent tubes provide the best type of artificial light for indoor plants. A cool white tube, suspended about 2 feet above the plants is sufficient for foliage plants. Better yet, purchase plants that can tolerate low light. Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema ssp.), pathos (Epipremnum aureum), peace lily (Spathiphyllum ssp.), ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) and snake plant (Sansevieria) are houseplants for low light situations.

 I am getting pretty frustrated because my Christmas cactus never flowers.  I saw my neighbor's plant yesterday and hers is full of buds that are getting ready to bloom. What am I doing wrong?    

Generally, Christmas cactus is an easy to care for houseplant but certain requirements need to be met for the plant to flower. Shortened day length prompts them to bloom. They need a period of uninterrupted darkness of about 14 hours for buds to set. This naturally happens as the days shorten in the fall, but indoor lighting or a light streaming into a window can disrupt the required dark period. So in the late summer move the plant to a room that is left unlit after dark. But, once they form flower buds the container should not be moved as this can cause the buds to fall off before flowering. Another option is placing the plant outdoors after the danger of frost has passed in the spring.  Move it back indoors in October or when evening temperatures drop into the low fifty degrees F. range.

I bought a cyclamen plant at the grocery store. I have never had one before, and I hope you can tell me how to care for it.

Cyclamen are popular houseplants in the dark days of winter.  The flowers come in shades of white, pink, mauve and purple. Cyclamen grow from tubers. In their native habitat they go dormant during the hot, dry part of the summer until the weather cools. Cyclamen can be challenging houseplants because they like daytime temperatures of about 68 degrees F and nighttime temperatures in the fifties. Warmer temperatures reduce flowering time and signal the plant to go dormant. They like bright indirect sunlight. An eastern exposure works well. Keep the soil moist but not soggy. Wait until the soil feels dry to the touch before watering, but do not let the plant wilt. Make sure the water drains from the bottom of the container. Cyclamens are not long-term houseplants. They are meant to be enjoyed while they are blooming and then disposed of as it is not easy to get them to bloom a second time.

My Ficus tree spent the summer outdoors. When I moved it back indoors many leaves turned yellow and fell off the plant. Now I am noticing a sticky coating on the leaves and on the floor around the plant. What is happening to my houseplant?

It is common for Ficus trees to drop leaves when they experience a change in location.  However, the sticky substance (honeydew) you are noticing most likely means that the plant has an infestation of a sucking insect such as mealybugs or scale. Both of these insects excrete honeydew as they feed. Look at the foliage and stems of the plants for either a white fluffy material, which indicates mealy bugs, or very small brown raised bumps, which indicates scale.  After identifying the insect, treat the plant with a labeled registered houseplant insecticide according to label directions. Both of these insects are difficult to control and retreatment a couple of weeks later may be necessary. It is recommended to spray the plant outdoors on a reasonably nice day and bring it back inside once the product has dried.

What is the best fertilizer to use on my houseplants and how often should I feed them?

Commercially available houseplant fertilizers are fine. They come in liquid, spikes (not the preferred method) or slow release granules that you mix into the potting soil. There are also organic choices if that is what you prefer.  A complete balanced fertilizer with a 1:2:1 (5-10-5) or 1:1:1 (14:14:14) ratio works well. Most houseplants do well being fertilized only about once a month or so. Overfertilization can burn roots.  Do not fertilize your plants from September to late February as they are not growing.

I am never sure how much water to give to my plants. How often should I water them?

Overwatering is the number one killer of houseplants. It is difficult to be on a watering schedule because different plants have different watering needs.  And factors like the time of year (plants need less water in the fall/winter), room temperature, light exposure, drainage, and humidity also dictate how much water a plant will need. Check your plants at least weekly and water only when the potting mixture feels dry about 2 inches down. When watering from the top, soak the soil and let the excess water drain from the container. Empty any water sitting in the saucer underneath the plant. An alternative method is to let the container sit in water until the top of the potting mixture is moist. Another quick test to check if a plant needs water is to lift up the container to feel its weight. Dry soil weighs less than wet soil, so become familiar with the weight of the containers before and after watering.

Please send us a question at Ask the Experts if you have a houseplant question you would like answered. Digitial photos can be attached to your question.

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