Winter houseplant care is tricky because they are used to warm weather. Most houseplants are tropical in nature. That is they are native to the tropical and subtropical regions of the world.
As such, when winter arrives, they’re out of their element.
This is why majority of them are not able to survive outside once mid fall comes around.
As a rule, unless you live in somewhere that gets sunshine all year round, you need to debug your plants and take them indoors before things get cold. They cannot tolerate frost or freezing conditions.
Once inside, the work begins.
Some houseplants easily adapt to indoor winter weather, which is not as cold as outside but still colder than what they’re used to. Also, there’s less sunlight. And, wintertime causes air to drop which lowers humidity to dangerous levels for tropical plants.
This is why come fall and winter, you’ll see your local garden center sell the same plants year in and year out. And, the variety is not as wide. That’s because these plants adapt better to indoor winter weather.
Thus, they’re less likely to die after you take them home.
To help you learn how to keep your plants alive and healthy through these cold months, I’ve come up with the guide below on winter houseplant care that covers everything from start to finish.
Winter Houseplant Care – Ways to Keep Houseplants Alive Through Winter
Below are the most important things to remember when caring for your houseplants during winter. Following the tips will not only let them survive through the cold months but also stay healthy so they’ll quickly start growing again come spring.
Cut Back on Water
The first thing to consider with your houseplants once the cold months come around is to scale back on watering.
Most houseplants are susceptible to overwatering. And, winter conditions increases this risk.
As such, you can stay on the safe side by watering your houseplants less in winter.
Cold air means it will take longer for wet soil to dry. Winter air is also dry, which means low humidity.
Majority of houseplants will likewise take a breather from growing or at the very least slow their growth during cold climates. In fact, some plants will even become dormant.
Together, this means less water is needed to keep them hydrated.
More importantly, not changing your watering schedule and watering them like you do during summer increases the risk of root rot.
The climate conditions during winter as well as the plant’s slow growth makes it easier to overwater it.
Low water plants like succulents, cacti and those that are tolerant to drought may not even need watering at all, depending on the factors in your home.
Checking for soil is likewise tricky during this time of year.
That’s because the cold will quickly cause the top layer of soil to dry up. But, the bottom will still be moist or wet.
Thus, it can be misleading.
This means you always want to stick your finger into the soil down to 2 to 3 inches deep to check how dry the soil is. Alternatively, you can use a moisture meter.
Sticking its probe all the way into the soil will give you an idea of what part of the soil is still wet or dry.
You only want to water the plant once the soil is dry to at least 2 inches from the surface.
Finally, keep in mind that the cold weather affects the temperature of water as well.
This is important since warmer or colder water will shock the plant. So, you want to use water that’s about the same temperature as the air.
This means in winter, letting the water get to around room temperature (which is colder than room temp during summer) before watering the plants is a good idea.
Make Sure It Gets Enough Light
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you want to allow your houseplants to get the most light they can.
Many houseplants are not able to tolerate direct sunlight during the summer when the sun’s rays are strong and intense. But that intensity goes down many notches come wintertime.
Of course, this only applies to areas that experience four seasons.
If you live in California, Hawaii, Florida, Arizona, Nevada and other areas where the sun is up 365 days a year, you don’t have to make any changes from the things you during those times.
But with frost and freezing temperatures comes less sunlight, shorter days and rays coming from a lower angle.
This means you may need to move the plants from their usual spots to areas where they get the most light. And, don’t worry about scorching or burning its foliage, there’s not risk at this time because the sun is nowhere as intense.
So, while the west and south facing windows require extra protection from the summer, they’re actually the ideal spots for houseplants in the winter (without any filter, curtains or even distancing from the windows).
However, you do want to be careful with plants that don’t like to be moved. In this case, providing them with supplemental lighting is best. You can use grow lights to complement whatever sunlight they receive.
Since light is also more scarce, rotating the plant every week or few weeks so each side gets ample lighting helps balance their growth as well. This prevents some plants from bending towards the light and looking distorted later on.
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Since winter causes drier air, humidity is another concern.
Most houseplants do best when humidity is between 50% and 60% with some preferring even higher than that. But, during winter humidity can easily drop to 10% to 30% in many homes.
Low humidity can cause brown leaf tips and also promote pests like spider mites.
Ideally, you want to take preventing action. But, if you happen to notice these symptoms, it means you need to augment whatever humidity boosting efforts you are doing as air moisture is still not enough to keep the plant happy.
The first and easiest step to take is to group your houseplants together. Each of these plants transpire. Much like how we perspire, the moisture escaping from their “skin” (through pores in their leaves) increase moisture in the air which ups humidity.
Individually the plants don’t transpire enough to change humidity surrounding them. But, collectively, they stand a better chance.
However, this may not always be enough to push humidity up enough to your houseplants’ desired levels.
It is a good idea to have a digital hygrometer so you can tell if humidity had gone high enough or you still need to do more.
If that’s not enough, a better option may to be to set up a humidity tray. This is a wide, shallow tray that’s enough to fit one or more plants.
You want to pick a tray that has edges that go up a few inches at least since you’re going to fill the try with water. About 2 inches of water is enough.
Then, set some stones to keep the pot above the water. Finally, place the pots on top of the stones.
As the water evaporates, the vapor will increase humidity around the plants.
All you have to do is monitor humidity levels to see if the rise is sufficient. Also, refill the water once it gets depleted.
Another effective option is to just get a humidifier. This one costs a bit more. But, you can choose the size you want based on the room square footage you plant to use it in.
I also have a few friends who set up mini greenhouses by placing the plants under a tent of plastic. You can likewise use individual plastic bags like you would to increase humidity when propagating stem cuttings.
Finally, it’s worth noting that misting works. But, it can mislead you to thinking you’re doing enough. Misting once or more times a day everyday gets tedious after a while. And, the effects are very temporary.
So, you do need to check how long its effects are on relative humidity around the plants and how much of an increase misting actually produces.
Keep Temperature from Dropping Too Low
Most houseplant come from tropical regions. As such, they prefer warm conditions.
This means they enjoy temperatures between 65 to 75 degrees. Although, most of them can tolerate weather as hot as 95 degrees.
At night, temperature tends to drop as the sun goes down. So, they’re also capable to adjusting to cooler night time climates.
But, this is what you want to watch out for since nighttime temperatures will drop before daytime temperature does. So, you don’t want to leave your houseplants in areas that can get too cold.
In most cases this means 50 degrees or less, although the exact levels will vary per plant since some are better able to withstand slightly colder environments.
However, in general, once temperature hits 45 degrees of less, your plants will begin to stress. And soon enough, they’ll begin experiencing damage as it gets colder.
This makes it very important to keep them somewhere warm.
Also, avoid cold drafts like those from vents, air conditioning and open windows.
They also don’t appreciate fluctuations. As much as possible, keep temperature consistent.
Finally, be careful with keeping them close to warming devices. This includes ovens, fireplaces, heaters and radiators.
Most houseplants have a growing season and a time when they rest. The former happens during the warmer months when the conditions are ideal for growth.
That’s because there’s a lot of sunlight that allows them to produce more food via photosynthesis. As such, you’ll noticed that you need to water more often during these times.
Similarly, feeding the plant during spring and summer gives it the nutrients its needs to sustain that growth.
But, once fall comes around this growth slows down. And, in most cases, slows even further during winter. In fact, some plants go dormant during this time.
This means there’s not need to feed the plant in winter. You can gradually cut down fertilizer application as fall arrives and stop by early to mid fall.
Then skip winter completely.
Once spring rolls along and the plants will start coming back to life. And, when it begins to produce leaves, you want to start applying fertilizer once again.
Wait Till After Winter to Repot
Repotting puts a lot of stress on plants. it also shocks them which is why some don’t grow after your transfer them.
When this happens, they’ll need a few weeks to recover before starting to producing new leaves again.
This also means that winter is not the time to repot.
The only exception are emergency situations. This includes pest infestation, overwatering or if the soil dries up too quickly.
Besides emergencies or trying to save the plant, it is best to wait until spring to repot.
Moving them in winter can cause them to start growing. Thus, messing up their natural cycle. Also, winter growth is often leggy and weak so you’ll end up pruning it anyway
Repotting also causes shock and stress to plants. This is something you want to avoid since they’re not at strong in winter as they are in spring and summer.
Thus, it makes them more susceptible to pests and disease.
Finally, giving them a larger home during this time of year increases the risk of overwatering.
Keep Pests & Bugs Away
Pests and bugs never take a break. And, while your plant is resting through the winter, these unwanted critters are busy.
Winter is breeding time to pests and bugs. So, you want to be extra vigilant during this time.
Regular inspection is a must. The earlier you spot them, the easier they are to control and treat.
Thus, I like to spend some time to check for bugs and pests each time I water the plants. This makes it easy to remember. And, it automatically becomes a regular habit.
If you spot any damage or the bugs and pest themselves, immediately start treatment.
It is a good idea to use organic insecticidal soap for washing the leaves and killing the bugs. You can use mild liquid soap mixed with water. A ration of 1 tsp of soap to to 1 liter of water works well.
Another option is organic neem oil which not only kills bugs but also helps keep them away.
Keep Them Clean
Cleaning is very important during the winter.
When all the windows are closed for long periods of time, dust can collect indoors. After a while, you’ll see more dust cover your houseplants’ foliage. Larger leaves tend attract more dust.
Unfortunately, as this builds up, it can make it harder for the plants to breathe. That’s because dust and small debris can block the pores in the leaves (stomata).
The extra layer of dust also reduces the amount of light the plant’s leaves are able to absorb. Thus, compounding the low light winters tend to have.
As such, it is a good idea to clean your houseplants’ leaves regularly.
You can use a damp cloth. Soapy water works well too.
Another options is to give the plants a shower.
Small plants easily fit into the sink. I also have a larger backyard sink for medium sized plants. But, bigger ones need to go into the shower.
This is a quick way to clean their leaves. It also increases moisture to help with he lack of humidity.
However, make sure to dry off the leaves with a damp sponge since you can’t leave the plants outside in the sun like you normally would during the summer.
Leaving the leaves wet will increase fungal growth which leads to problems. So, always dry them off as soon as you finish giving them a bath.
Prune If Needed
However, pruning is less of a problem.
You can prune your houseplants without harm or issue as long as you don’t get overly aggressive. Remove yellow or brown leaves as well as leggy stems.
In winter, plant growth can be leggy due to the lack of light.
For more growth you can pinch their stems which will encourage new branches and help the plant eventually get bushier. But don’t expect a lot of growth to happen, at least until spring comes around.
Where to Buy Houseplants in Winter
When it comes to buying houseplants my two go-to options are local nurseries or garden centers and online.
No matter where you live, you’ll likely have a few nurseries and garden centers in your area. These all work differently with some being bigger than others. Similarly, the plants they carry can differ.
From experience, most will have the common ones, especially those native to your region.
But, each often has a few plants that are unique. Sometimes, they grow these themselves so only they’ll have it within that area.
Another great option is buying online. I usually reserve this for plants I can’t find around my area. That’s because online plants take time to arrive. And, you don’t get to choose what you get. This is why I prefer my local stores if possible, I get to pick the exact plant I want from the many same species available.
The most important thing about buying houseplants in winter is to keep them warm.
Online plants that are left outside your door are at more risk.