Winter Care for Houseplants

Houseplants in WinterLight and humidity help plants thrive indoors during the cold, dark months.

Like all plants, indoors and out — and especially like the outdoor plants we bring inside — our beloved houseplants need special care and consideration during the winter months. Treating them as we do during the warm, well-lit spring and summer months just won’t do.

While there are a number of indoor gardening practices that change or vary during the winter, the two most important have to do with light and humidity. Whether its philodendrons, ficus trees, asparagus ferns, prayer, spider, or snake plants — or any of the many, many others — a little knowledge goes a long way to not only allowing your indoor plants to survive but thrive during the winter months.

First thing to consider is that the conditions inside your home change as conditions outside change. The indoor winter environment is much dryer as furnaces and other heat sources take the moisture from the air. This leads some houseplant keepers to conclude that their plants need more watering. Not true. They actually need less watering. What they need is more humidity.

Many sources recommend misting your plants. But this isn’t all that effective at raising humidity unless you’re misting three times a day or more. Better is to put the pots containing your plants in a tray filled with gravel and then keeping water in among the gravel. The gradual evaporation will provide the humidity that your furnace is removing. Don’t allow the pots to sit in water which they might draw up into the soil. Better, for you and your plants, especially in particularly dry and cold climates, is a humidifier.

You can also help reduce dry humidity conditions by keeping your houseplants away from heating vents. A friend of mine locates her houseplants in the laundry room during the day time hours — it also has plenty of light — because of its added humidity. Hauling them into the bathroom when showers are taken? That might be a bit too much.

The other important thing to keep your houseplants thriving during the short days of winter is light. Some plants, like corn plants, rubber plants, and prayer plants, don’t require so much light. Houseplants may do well on windowsills — the location also offers them a bit of humidity — but make sure they’re not there when outdoor temperatures brush the glass with frost. But most, including Norfolk pines, wandering Jew, zebra plants and asparagus ferns, need more light than a windowsill can provide.

Most winter days, especially in the northern parts of the country, don’t offer enough light to keep plants at their best. The simple solution is grow lights. You don’t need a fancy set-up; many plants will do just fine under fluorescent lights, especially if they’re the efficient T5 type. This kind of lighting can add interest to the places where your houseplants are set, making your room seem warmer and more inviting even as they help your precious plants thrive. LED lights, though more expensive, are another great alternative for houseplants with their spectrum-specific light and low energy use (which helps you make up for their initial cost).

Other winter houseplant tips? As we suggested above, less watering is important to most houseplants during the dormant season. Make sure that the soil around your potted plant is dry not just on the surface but to the root ball or a depth of two inches. The exceptions are citrus trees which need to be kept moist (but not soggy) all year around, and asparagus and other ferns that require more water (but again, not soggy conditions).

Fertilizing shouldn’t be done during the winter. Most houseplants will be growing extra slowly. Some will reach an almost dormant state. Fertilize them when they start active growth in the spring. And don’t re-pot plants in the winter. Wait until spring or summer, even if your plants are root bound. This will help prevent losing plants from shock.

Because there’s such a wide variety of house plants being grown these days, it’s best to check on your specific plant’s needs when providing care. Here’s a place to do just that. And let us know how your house plants are faring with the onset of winter. Any special tricks?

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