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Winter Care for Houseplants

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Winter Care for Houseplants

If this is your first winter as a houseplant gardener—or if you’ve logged a few winters but could use some reminders—this article is for you! Caring for houseplants over the winter means adjusting some of the normal care we give them in order to keep them thriving. But guess what? It’s pretty easy!

Why Do Houseplants Need Different Care Over the Winter, Anyway?

Ahhh, good question! It’s because winter changes the conditions in which the houseplants are growing—the air is dryer, and light and humidity levels are often lower. Also, many houseplants are dormant and not actively growing during the winter months, so their requirements are different. And because all houseplants are growing in pots and are 100% dependent upon us to deliver the goods to them, we’ve got to be in the know.

Here’s What You Need to Know

Houseplants have some basic requirements of houseplants, and their care needs to be modified during the winter—lessened in some areas and amped up in others.

  • Light: Winter days are shorter, and light levels are impacted as a result. The amount of natural outdoor light coming through windows to your interior is less, and the light strength is diminished as well. Move your plants to a brighter location (a south- or west-facing non-drafty window is perfect), rotate your containers to receive equal amounts of natural light, or add a supplemental light to give your plants a boost.
  • Water: Most houseplants need less water in the winter because they are dormant, and the ones that need less to begin with (eyeballs on you, cacti and many succulents) may need no water at all for a time. So, it’s ok if the soil surface is dry—poke your finger down a couple of inches, and if it’s dry that far down, go ahead and water.
  • Humidity: Most houseplants like a 50% humidity level, with some loving even more. Unfortunately, we all know how dry that winter air is—our own hair and skin tell the story! The easiest thing to do is to have a humidifier in your home, but barring that, you’ve got several other options. Group your plants together to increase humidity, set your pots on or near a tray of water (not in the water, mind you), and move the more humidity-loving plants into your bathroom if you have the room.
  • Indoor Temperatures: When the weather outside changes, we alter our indoor temperatures to stay comfy and cozy. To keep your houseplants equally comfy and cozy, keep them away from fluctuations of temperature from sources like fireplaces, heaters, radiators, and drafty windows and doors.
  • Fertilizer: Because your houseplants may be dormant (or at least resting) over the winter months, that means they’re not actively growing. And that means that you do not need to fertilize them. And lest you think that a little fertilizer will help them along, remember that doing so can interrupt their natural growth cycle. So, repeat after me: No fertilizing until you see new green growth appear in early spring.

How to Spot Trouble

In spite of your best efforts, sometimes things just go awry. And with houseplants, the sooner you spot the issue, the better. These are very common pest and disease problems during the fall and winter months, along with some tips on how to treat them.

  • Spider mites: You may see white webbing and tiny dots moving around, indicating the presence of pesky spider mites. You might also spot brown spots or holes on leaves. If spider mites are an issue, it’s likely because your humidity is too low—so follow those tips above, isolate your plant from its neighbors, wipe the leaves off, and consider treating with a miticide like Neem.
  • Root rot: Look for wilting and yellowing leaves—during the winter, those are telltale signs that your houseplant has poor drainage or has been overwatered. Adjust your watering schedule accordingly, and if your plant has passed the point of no return, be prepared to lay it to rest and start with a new, fresh plant.
  • Fungus gnats: Here’s another pesky critter that can infest your houseplants if you overwater them, and signs to look for include limp, weak growth and dropped leaves. Correct your watering immediately and dispose of any moist moss topdressing. Covering the soil with a layer of gravel prevents the gnats from laying their eggs in the soil. The adult fungus gnats that you see flying around rarely cause any damage, but their larvae will, so it pays to stay on top of this one and stop that reproductive cycle.

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  • Katie Elzer-Peters