Everybody gets the winter blues sometimes, even your houseplants. While most houseplants are very frost sensitive and need to be brought inside during the colder months, the environment in your house is not helping them too much either. The humidity inside is much lower than most plants prefer especially in the winter, and the amount of available light is usually reduced as well. There are some simple things you can do to make sure you have healthy and happy houseplants throughout the winter. In the winter, beyond the changing environment, most plants go dormant or slow their growth. It only makes sense that you need to change how you care for your plants.
I have definitely lost my share of houseplants through the years. Between vacations, winter moving dates, and a bit of bad luck, we have said goodbye to many favorites that once blanketed our windows. Through many mistakes and new adventures, we have a rhythm to my houseplant care in the winter. These are the keys I have found to having your plants thrive all winter.
Ease them into it
Give them plenty of light
Keep them warm
Water less often but always deep
Keep the humidity up
Clean them up
Check for any problems
Stop fertilizing (mostly)
Ease them in. The initial shock of moving a plant that may have spent the summer outside back indoors during the winter can be a bit much for them. Bring the plants in when the temperatures begin to drop. On warmer sunnier days, move the plants back outside to soak up all the sun they can. Be careful not to forget about them when the temperatures drop again.
Lots of light. There a handful of houseplants that can survive in those dark corners of a house, but you only want to stick them there as a last resort. Find the sunniest spot in the house you can for them. To get thebest lighting aim for an east or southeast facing window. Windows on the north side will get very limited light and not enough to help your plants thrive.
Keep them warm. Houseplants are not happy in breezy areas like under an air vent or beside a drafty door or window. Keep them in warmer areas away from drafts and seal up any sunny windows.
Watch your water. With the lower lighting and lower temperatures, the growth of houseplants slow down, so they don’t need water as often. Most plants only need to be watered once a week through the winter. Be very careful not to overwater. Always check how damp the soil is before watering. Water the plants thoroughly until water begins to come out of the bottom. Drain any extra water. I usually pack the kitchen sink full of thirsty houseplants, water them, and let them drain fully. It keep things clean and dry around the house.
Humidify. Most houseplants thrive in more humid environments. This is not the environment we find in our dry air conditioned houses and buildings. To help increase the humidity around your plants, take shallow trays filled with a 1-2 inch layer of gravel and water, and place it under your plants. An occasional misting can also go a long way.
Clean them up. Winter is the perfect time to give your houseplants a yearly tune up. Dust and dirt can actually clog the pores in the leaves drastically decreasing photosynthesis and respiration creating really unhappy plants. Do them a solid and give them a quick clean up. Trim off any dead branches. Pick off any spent blooms or dead leaves. Finally, clean any dust off the leaves. Wipe them down with a damp cloth or sponge. You can even put them in the shower and give them a gentle bath with the sprayer. Some plants like our staghorn fern prefer a little special treatment like that.
Give them a physical. Watch out for any problems that the plants may be having. Things can get bad quick, so catch any issues with disease or insects early and your plants will be set up for a great spring ahead.
Cut back the fertilizers (kind of). The amounts of nutrients plants need in the winter differ plant to plant, so you need to change up what may have worked well all summer. Most houseplants go somewhat dormant using very little nutrients and don’t even need fertilizers. Other plants, like most citrus, require consistent fertilizing throughout the year. If you fertilize in the winter, be sure you balance with consistent deep watering to avoid fertilizer salt buildup in the soil. I cheat the rule a bit by using small amounts of vermicompost all year. At the beginning of the winter, I mix a small amount into the top of the soil and deeply water the plants. Our plants love it.
Take a few extra precautions over the winter and you will have happy and thriving houseplants through until springtime. These are the rules of thumb that we follow to keep our indoor plants growing strong all year.