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Should I Fertilize My Indoor Plants in The Winter?

Fertilizing your indoor plant is crucial for their healthy and bushy growth. But should you fertilize your indoor plants during their dormant season of fall and winter? Will fertilizing during the dormant season do any good to our plants, or will it hurt them instead? Let’s find out!

You shouldn’t fertilize your indoor plants in winter as most houseplants grow during spring and summer and stay at a dormant stage during the winter. Fertilizing your plants in winters can lead to various problems and affect the plant’s overall health. You must only fertilize your indoor plants during spring and summer.

Although fertilization is crucial for healthy plant growth. But over-fertilization or fertilization at the wrong time of the year can lead to various problems in your plant.

I would recommend you read this article till the end to learn more about when you should fertilize your indoor plants and what you need to do if you have overfertilized them.

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Importance of fertilizing indoor plants

What is fertilizer in the first place? Plants process photosynthesis with the help of Sunlight, Water, and nutrients.

Fertilizer is like a vitamin, and other nutrient boosts for the plant to help it process its food through photosynthesis.

In the natural environment for the outdoor plants, many processes are happening, such as leaves and branches dropping, availability of microorganisms, and earthworms that help turn the organic matter into nutrient-rich fertilizer for the soil.

When we come to indoor houseplants, all that microbial activity is not present in the potting soil mixes. Hence, we help feed the plant with nutrients to balance the soil.

There are different types of fertilizers available for all the different soil types and what’s required for the plant.

We can mix different types of fertilizers; that is organic and synthetic fertilizers to balance the plants’ need.

You can learn more about different nutrients present in a fertilizer from the table below:

NutrientsFunctions
Nitrogen-Formation of proteins
-Essential for photosynthesis
-Stimulate new growth
Phosphorous-Key to photosynthesis
-Cellular growth and division
-Encourages root growth
-Essential for flowering and fruiting plant
Potassium-Helps regulate water intake
-Boosts immune system
Calcium-Reduces soil acidity
-Improves nutrients absorption
-Boosts immunity
Magnesium-Essential for photosynthesis
-Improves metabolism
Sulfur-Fights winter hardiness
-Synthesis of amino acids

I mostly suggest and promote the use of organic fertilizer like the seaweed solution or compost from your kitchen waste.

You can also try, a completely organic solution is Espoma Organic Indoor Liquid Organic Plant Food. It is entirely odor-free and does its job well.

We can surely use the fertilizer available in the market; however, there are specific rules for using them.

Firstly, always follow the instructions that are available and, secondly, use a little less(half the dose) than the prescribed.

You might wonder what an irony, but this is simple math that we have come across and found that less is always better when using synthetic fertilizers.

Also read: How To Make House Plants Grow Faster? (Crucial Factors+9 Secret Tips)

When should I fertilize my indoor plants?

Fertilizers are provided to the plants during the growing season, which is during the spring, summer, and fall.

If you are residing in the tropical and sub-tropical region, then the growing season will be all year round.

Plants do not need extra nutrients when they are not growing, and hence, we provide them with fertilizer only during the growing season.

It also totally depends on the species of the plant that when should we fertilize.

Fertilizer consists of mainly three essential nutrients being the N-P-K. The N-P-K stands for Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium.

In the case of plants with more foliage, we require more Nitrogen content in the fertilizer, or we can also use the well-balanced fertilizer.

Similarly, if we have indoor plants with flowers, we might need to up the phosphorus content for better flower growth.

Potassium is used in general for healthy plants and to prevent diseases.

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When should I stop fertilizing my houseplants?

Plants do not need fertilizer during the winter season because they are dormant and not growing during the winter. However, we should take care of few tips here.

We start with the use of fertilizer during the spring. Initially, start with less amount of fertilizer as the plants are not habituated with the full feed.

Gradually increase the amount and the frequency of fertilization.

Once we reach fall, that is around mid-August, reduce the feed and the frequency of fertilization.

It also depends on the region that you belong to. If you stay in a tropical or a sub-tropical region, then we can fertilize the plant almost for the entire year.

There is also another situation when we should avoid using an excess of fertilizer. The plant shows no growth or less growth.

That is one of the symptoms of overfertilization of plants, and hence we should immediately halt feeding the plants.

Problems of fertilizing your houseplants in winter

We might be inclined towards feeding our plants during the winter because they are not growing. Please do not succumb to this situation.

Generally, most indoor houseplants do not grow during the winters and are dormant. Hence, they do not require extra feed.

As the plants do not grow during the winters, the amount of salt that the plant sucks up from the soil is also less.

If we continue to feed the plant with fertilizer during the winters, it might lead to multiple plant problems.

Some of the symptoms are:

  1. Yellowing leaves
  2. Drooping leaves
  3. Loss of Foliage
  4. Burning of leaves
  5. Burning of roots

These are some of the symptoms caused by fertilizing your houseplants during the winter.

To avoid the above scenario, we should cut down on the feed during the start of the winter season, around Mid-August or September, and then continue with the feed around late winter.

We can mist the plant regularly during the winters to control the humidity, which also helps the foliage.

This time of the season is considered the resting period for the plants, so that we will do the same. We shall cut down on the feed and the watering regime.

Also read: Why Do My Houseplants Keep Dying? (13 Common Problems)

What if I already fertilized my plant in winter?

If you have fertilized our plant already and didn’t know that the plant was not supposed to be fertilized during the winters, then do not panic.

The crucial thing to remember here is that the plant should not be stressed.

To check this, we will notice some signs or symptoms that are mentioned below. If we get any of these symptoms, then it is time to act.

We need to remove the excess amount of fertilizer from the soil so that your plant can recover from the shock.

  1. Take the plant and run it through the water. Give a gentle and good run through as this will help the plant drain the excess amount of fertilizer from the soil.
  2. Remember to throw away the excess amount of water collected in the drainage trays. We do not want the plant to stand on water.
  3. Follow the procedure around three to four times as it will ensure that the fertilizer has been eliminated.
  4. Check the watering regime and place the plant in a much sunnier spot than it was placed earlier.
  5. It is always easy to add more fertilizer later than to flush the plant with an excess of fertilizer.
  6. We can also perform a soil test and know what is abundant in the soil. Whether the soil is more acidic or it is more alkaline.

We can always choose to bring the soil back to a neutral condition.

What are the signs of over-fertilizing houseplants?

Never feed the plants with an excess of fertilizer. It is a general rule that if you are using synthetic fertilizer, then use less than the prescribed amount.

Overfertilizing your houseplants can lead to multiple issues and might also exterminate your plant.

The N-P-K ratio is there for a reason, and if we apply that to the plant incorrectly, then there will be consequences because plants take these chemicals differently in the soil.

Some of the symptoms of an overfertilized plant are:-

Slow or no growth- This might also be a common scenario during the winters as the plant is in a dormant state during this season. 

So, avoid fertilizing your houseplants during the winters unless you are from a tropical region.

Lesser Foliage- We will notice that the plant with an excess of feed does not grow foliage, and instead, the plant might wind up giving up the foliage.  

Black or brown roots- This is the first symptom of root rot. An overfertilized plant’s roots might start to decay because the plant is not taking the right amount of nutrients from the soil.

Avoid the root rot situation as if this condition worsens. The plant will be prone to attract insects and bugs, which is harmful.

We might also end up losing the plant.

Brown leaf margins- Brown leaf margins or leaf browning at the tips are caused by the plants’ overfertilization.

Due to overfertilization, the plant cannot take up water from the soil as the salt content in the soil has been increased.

The higher salt content in the soil will damage the roots and might cause root burn.

It leads to the browning of the leaf at the edges.

Yellowing leaves or droopy leaves- This symptom is a tricky one. We might not know what has caused the yellowing of the leaves.

It could well be because of overwatering your plants.

To be a hundred percent sure, feel the soil, and if the soil feels dry or even moist but not wet, then it could very well be overfertilization of the plants.

A pest situation also causes the yellowing of the leaves, but the pests generally attack the newer leaves of the plant.

Check carefully if there are any pests on your indoor houseplant and if the answer to the question is no then, check the regime and if the plant has been overfertilized.

How to save a plant that has been over-fertilized?

Your plant is giving the above indications. Now, we are sure that the plant has been overfertilized.

Is that the end? How do we recover this? My plant might die!
Please do not worry as we will help you out of this situation.

Try not to freeze! The plant needs to get balanced once again. The salt build-up is blocking the water intake of the plant.

All we need is to follow a few simple steps to recover from this situation.

So, to achieve this, we will need to remove the excess amount of fertilizer that was added to the plant.

The plant is already in stress, and we do not want to stress the plant more. If we give any kind of stress to the plant, there might be stunted growth, causing a shock to the plant.

If we see that the topsoil has a crust of excess fertilizer, we will need to remove the crust.

Try not to remove any more than 25% of the soil available.

The next step is to eliminate the wilted or the burned leaves. These leaves will not help the plant anymore and will only stress the plant.

From that point onward, drain the fertilizer out of the soil with a pleasant, long watering.

Let the water run out of the drainage holes and clean the tray right away.

It would be best if you did these three or four times to ensure that the excess amount of fertilizer has been removed from the soil.

After draining, don’t feed the plant for in any event, for a month.
These steps should be enough and will help you revive your plant back to life.


Source: Indoor Plant Care, Effects of Winter Foliar Fertilizing, and Plant Growth Promoters, HELPING PLANTS PREPARE FOR WINTER.

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