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Houseplants awaken in spring. Here’s how to care for them.

Ask the Expert Gardening
Like humans, houseplants have light-driven internal clocks that affect their behavior. Pictured: Golden pothos, philodendron Congo Rojo, Snake Plant, Monstera, Ruby rubber tree, staghorn fern, and Hoya pubicalyx.
Like humans, houseplants have light-driven internal clocks that affect their behavior. Pictured: Golden pothos, philodendron Congo Rojo, Snake Plant, Monstera, Ruby rubber tree, staghorn fern, and Hoya pubicalyx. MariAH MIRANDA FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

Like humans, houseplants have light-driven internal clocks that affect their behavior. In winter, when the days are shorter, many plants enter a period of slow or no growth. More light in spring triggers active growth, which means it’s time to tweak your routines.

Here are five ways to switch things up for spring, according to gardening and plant experts.

1. Tweak your watering schedule. When houseplants start to grow more, you’ll probably need to water them more than you did in winter. But there’s no hard-and-fast rule about how often or how much to water them; instead, it depends on the conditions of your home.

If you’re running heat or central air, your plants may need more water, because your humidity will be lower. Plants in a more humid environment — whether that’s a steamy bathroom or a home in a soupier climate — might need less.

A plant’s location also factors into watering. Plants in south- and west-facing windows get more light and may be thirstier.

2. Start fertilizing. Your plants also need more nutrients when they start sending up new shoots and leaves. Starting in late April or early May, use a houseplant-specific fertilizer and dilute it to half-strength, suggested Sarah Humke, research and development manager at Wild Interiors. The more a plant is growing, the more fertilizer it will need, so you may need to ramp up to a full-strength solution by summer.

3. Give your plants an outdoor vacation. To kickstart your houseplants’ growth, consider moving them outdoors during the warmer months. Wind can make plants’ stems stronger, and the rain can wash dust off the leaves, said Clydette Alsup-Egbers, an associate professor of horticulture at Missouri State University.

It’s best to wait until overnight temperatures reach the mid-50s or low 60s before taking your houseplants outside for the season. Or make sure there’s no more than a 10-to-15-degree difference in temperature between indoors and outdoors.

Too much direct sunlight can burn plants, so keep them in a shady area.

If you move them outside, plants should stay there for the whole summer, Johnson said; too many changes could cause stress. If you’d rather not move a plant outside, consider relocating it to a sunnier window for spring. (Avoid places near air-conditioning vents, because cold air can strip plants of moisture.)

4. Do some spring cleaning. Johnson suggested removing dead or damaged leaves from the soil and the plant, because this will improve your plant’s appearance and help it to grow.

5. Repot if needed. As a plant grows, it may need a roomier home. If the plant is much larger than the height of the pot, or if you can see a lot of the roots when you take the plant out to look at it, then it’s time to repot, Alsup-Egbers said.

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