Overfertilizing and watering are the main causes of houseplant problems in the dormant season.

We are a kind people. We overfeed ourselves, our dogs and our houseplants.

It’s a shame. In our generosity rests a time bomb. We kill with kindness.

More houseplants die in winter than other seasons. The causes are overwatering and over-fertilizing.

Houseplants undergo seasonal changes, just like their cousins outdoors. In the spring and summer, they need food and moisture for the demands of leaf and flower making and can take all we give them.

Going dormant

As the days grow shorter, plants go into dormancy mode. They stop growing and may lose a few leaves. They have a generally lackluster appearance after a summer of rapid growth.

They are taking a break. These guys are still growing, but now they’re concentrating on roots. This is critical, as the plant has expanded over the summer and needs support.

Growers often mistake seasonal changes for plant problems. They respond with more water and fertilizer at exactly the wrong time.

When the above-soil portions of a plant slow down, it need a lot less water and nourishment. Too much of either can be toxic in these conditions.

Water always forces oxygen out of the soil. Normally, the plant’s rapid growth consumes the wet and asks for more. Starting in fall, plants need a lot less water. Keeping to your usual, generous watering schedule can rot roots. You can cut the watering by at least half, maybe more.

Repotting season

For this reason, fall is the best time to repot plants. Repotting shocks a normally growing plant. Doing it when the plant is dormant gives it a chance to acclimate to the new surroundings before the growing season.

It’s easier to spot repotting candidates than you might think. Look under the pot at the drainage hole. If you see roots coming out, it needs a new pot.

The general rule is to repot in a container half-again as large as the original one. That’s a 50 percent space gain.

While you’re at it, trim off dead leaves and shape up the plant. Wildly growing spurs often can be propagated into new ones. These make nice holiday gifts.

Also look for insect damage. The plant may need a spraying with a multipurpose pesticide. It’s best to do this outside while the weather is comfortable.

It’s a good idea to wash your old pots in soapy water with a teaspoon of chlorine bleach. This disinfects and readies them for the newcomers.

The plant will tell you when it’s ready for work. As the days grow longer in March, you’ll see unmistakable activity above the soil line. The new roots formed over the dormant period are ready to produce the leaves needed to support the life of the plant.

Contact Jim Hillibish at jim.hillibish@cantonrep.com.