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How To Care For Houseplants In Winter

9 min read

How to care for houseplants in winter, winter care guide for houseplant


The days are shorter, the nights are colder, and autumn breezes are turning into freezing winds. Winter is already around the corner. It is about time you swap your wardrobe for knit jumpers and snow boots, it is also about time you move all your tropical houseplants indoors (if you haven’t already during the transition season of autumn) and switch to a winter care routine. 

Why do we need this switch? During the colder season, houseplants face distinct challenges that require a specialized care routine. Reduced natural light, lower indoor humidity, and temperature fluctuations are characteristic of winter, creating conditions different from the warm and bright summer. If your plants have been bathing under the sun outdoors during summer, the shift to indoor living can impact plant growth and overall health. Moreover, just like the outdoor trees, most houseplants enter a dormant phase during the winter. Although houseplants do not shed all their leaves and slip into a winter slumber, they still need to rest before going into the next growing season in the spring. 

Creating a personalized winter care routine is super important. It's not just about helping your plants survive the challenges of winter, but it's also about giving your plants the strength to bounce back healthy and full of life when spring rolls around. While each houseplant may have its specific requirements, there are crucial winter care tips that work for most houseplants. Follow our tips below to keep your plants healthy and thriving during the cold months.

Why Do Houseplants Need A Winter Care Routine?

Winter presents several challenges for houseplants, primarily due to the changes in environmental conditions. The days are shorter in winter, leading to a decrease in natural sunlight and temperature. Houseplants, especially those that are adapted to higher light levels and warm air, may see these changes affecting their photosynthesis and growth. With lower light levels and cooler temperatures, plants may not require as much water as they do during the growing season. Overwatering becomes a risk, as the soil takes longer to dry out in the lower temperatures, potentially leading to root rot.

Moreover, indoor heating systems can dry out the air, resulting in lower humidity levels. Many houseplants, especially those native to tropical regions, prefer higher humidity. The dry air can lead to issues like leaf browning and increased susceptibility to pests. 

If you move your plants inside from the outdoor environment, indoor temperature can stress plants. Sudden temperature changes can shock plants. Drafts, especially near windows and doors, can expose plants to cold air, while central heating systems can create extremely hot and dry conditions. 

Some houseplants, even if not fully dormantmay experience a period of slower growth during winter. This is a natural response to the reduced light and cooler temperatures. Adjusting care routines to accommodate this slower growth phase is crucial.

Houseplant Winter Care Routine 

Reduce Watering 

Adjusting your watering routine is a crucial winter care tip to ensure the well-being of your plants. With reduced light exposure and lower temperatures during the cold months, plants undergo a slower rate of photosynthesis, leading to diminished growth and, consequently, reduced water needs. Maintaining a watering schedule similar to the spring and summer months can result in overwatering, posing risks such as root rot, pest infestations, and fungal infections. The frequency of watering should be tailored to factors like plant type, soil composition, light exposure, indoor conditions, and outdoor climate. Using your finger or a moisture meter to assess soil moisture weekly is recommended, watering only when the top 2 inches of soil are completely dry. Adopting the bottom-watering method is effective in preventing overwatering. However, it's essential to note that winter-flowering plants like the Christmas Cactus may require more consistent watering and shouldn't experience significant cutbacks during this season. It is also important to use room-temperature distilled water, as cold water may give your plants a temperature shock. 

Fertilization, Propagation and Repotting

Most houseplants stop growing in winter, so they do not need any fertilizer. Feeding your plants during their dormancy messes up their natural cycle and puts them under strain. Fertilizing during your plants’ inactive season can also damage their root system. Fertilizing during the inactive season can lead to weak growth and can be harmful to your plant’s overall health. 

However, some vining climbers like Philodendron or Ivy may continue to grow throughout the cold months. For these active winter growers, you can still give them some diluted fertilizer and feed them at a reduced rate. 

Repotting and propagation aren’t recommended during winter, as your plants may not have enough energy to overcome transplant shock and create new growth. Let your plants rest and do not disturb their dormant phase. 

English Ivy plant, English Ivy on the shelf near the windowsill, how to care for houseplant in winter, winter care for houseplant

Ivy Plant can continue to grow throughout the cold months.

Maintain A Steady Temperature

Most houseplants come from tropical climate areas, so they prefer humid and warm environments. Maintaining a consistent temperature is crucial for the well-being of your houseplants during the winter. Fluctuations in temperature can adversely affect their growth and overall health. Aim to keep your indoor environment within the preferred temperature range for your specific plants. Temperatures between 60-80°F (15-27°C) are ideal for the optimal health and growth of most houseplants. This temperature range provides a comfortable and stable environment so your green friends can settle during the cold months. Avoid placing them near drafts or in close proximity to heaters, as extreme temperature variations can cause stress. Providing a stable and comfortable temperature will contribute to healthier and more resilient houseplants. Pay attention to room insulation and heating to ensure your living space has a steady temperature. A sudden drop in temperature would cause cold damage (which results in droopy leaves, plant wilting, and darkened foliage) or even kill your plants. 

Increase Humidity Level

Your indoor living spaces usually become drier during cold days, and the humidity level may drop below 30-40%. Most houseplants come from tropical climate areas, so they prefer humid and warm environments with a humidity level between 40-60%. Dry air accelerates the evaporation of moisture from the soil, leading to quicker drying. Moreover, plants naturally release moisture through a process called transpiration. In dry air, transpiration can occur too rapidly, making it challenging for the plant to regulate water loss. As a result, plants may struggle to maintain adequate water levels, potentially causing stress, wilting, and dry, brown leaves. 

To increase the humidity level, you can mist your plant or use a humidifier. For humidity lover plants like Monstera, Calathea, or Fern, taking them to your steamy bathroom after you have a shower works wonders to keep them healthy.

Another effective way to increase humidity for your plants is to group them together to create a microclimate that traps moisture between the foliage and helps to generate higher humidity. We also recommend putting your plants on top of a pebble tray filled with a small amount of water. When the water evaporates from the tray, it raises the humidity level around your potted plants.

houseplant care guide, how to care for houseplants in winter, winter care for houseplants

Grouping houseplants together will increase humidity for them.

Provide Adequate Lighting

As the days are shorter, the amount of sunlight your plants receive will be significantly reduced. Consider moving your plants to a spot where they have maximum light exposure. To optimize sunlight exposure during the winter, a south-facing window where plants can receive the most direct sunlight is recommended. Don’t forget to rotate your plants regularly to ensure all sides receive equal light exposure, promoting balanced growth. Make sure you also clean all glass doors and windows to let more light penetrate. This simple tip can significantly enhance the amount of natural light reaching your plants, promoting better growth and overall health during the winter months.

For darker winter days or if natural sunlight is limited, consider using supplemental lighting. LED grow lights are an excellent choice, providing a full-spectrum lighting condition that plants need for photosynthesis. Position the lights above the plants and adjust the duration based on their specific light requirements. A small indoor greenhouse with lighting is also a great idea if you have enough space. 

Understanding each plant's light preferences is crucial. Group plants with similar light needs together and place them in suitable locations. High-light plants should be closer to the light source, while low-light plants can be positioned further away.

Winter Pruning and Foliage Cleaning

Give your plants a winter-welcoming pruning. Removing dead, yellowing leaves helps your plants save energy when their photosynthesis process slows down. Getting rid of dead leaves also prevents fungal infections, mold, and pest issues. Pruning also allows more light to reach the remaining healthy leaves. Remember to use clean and sharp pruning shears for precise cuts. 

You should also make foliage cleaning a part of your winter care routine . Foliage cleaning actually plays a vital role in maintaining the health of your plants. Dust and debris on the leaves can hinder the plant's ability to photosynthesize effectively. By gently wiping the leaves with a damp cloth, you allow the plant to absorb more light, supporting its overall growth and vitality. At least once a week, spray the leaves with warm water and give them a good clean. Be careful not to damage the leaves or stems. Plants with huge foliage like Monstera, Ficus, or Calathea often attract a thick layer of dust on their leaves, so leaf cleaning is a must for these beauties. You can also use some commercial leaf-cleaning solutions, just make sure you follow the instructions correctly. 

pruning yellow leaves on houseplant, how to care for houseplant in winter, winter care for houseplant, houseplant care guide during winter

Removing dead, yellow leaves will help the plants save energy

Source: istockphoto

Check For Pests

Regularly inspecting your houseplants for pests is a crucial aspect of winter care. During the colder months, a cozy, humid indoor space is a wonderful living environment for houseplants. It is also a favorite breeding ground for multiple types of pests like aphids, scale insects, thrips, and mealybugs. Your plant care routine should include a regular, thorough pest check. If you bring your plants outside in the summer, you need to inspect them carefully before moving them inside to avoid inviting pests to your home. 

Check the undersides of leaves, leaf joints, and along the stems for any signs of infestation. If you notice pests, address them promptly with appropriate measures. This may include manually removing pests, using insecticidal soap, or employing natural predators like ladybugs. Taking proactive steps to control and prevent pest infestations ensures the health and well-being of your houseplants throughout the winter, allowing them to thrive when spring arrives. Any sign of pest infection should be treated promptly, as your plants are more vulnerable during winter. 

Monitor Your Plant’s Reaction

Monitoring your plants is essential because each plant has specific needs, and the indoor environment can vary. Your care routine should be tailored to the unique requirements of your plants, your home, and your climate. By regularly observing how your plants respond to their surroundings, you can make informed adjustments to ensure they thrive during the winter months. 

For example, the amount of water reduction or the ideal humidity level for your plants depends on individual plants. It's crucial to observe your plants' reactions and make adjustments accordingly. If you notice dry, crispy leaves, it may indicate that you've cut back on water a bit too much, and you need to water more. On the other hand, if your plant shows signs of overwater like mushy stems or leaves, you may need to stretch the watering schedule. This attentive monitoring allows you to fine-tune your care routine, ensuring that your plants receive the optimal conditions during the winter.

Extra Tips For Outdoor Houseplants In Winter

The decision to keep houseplants outdoors in winter depends on several factors, including the specific plant species, your climate, and the temperature tolerance of the plants. In general, if you live in a region with mild winters and your houseplants are cold-tolerant, you may be able to keep them outdoors. Cold-tolerant plants, such as Sempervivum succulents, may withstand temperatures as low as 10-20°F. However, it's crucial to monitor the weather conditions and during extreme weather or deep-freezing days, you may need to put extra cover or move your plants indoors temporarily. 

To care for outdoor houseplants in winter, you can take several measures to ensure their well-being:

  • Applying a layer of mulch around the base of the plants helps insulate the soil and protect the roots from freezing temperatures. 
  • Consider placing windbreaks, such as burlap or wooden barriers, to shield the plants from harsh winter winds. 
  • Grouping cold-tolerant plants together creates a microclimate where they can benefit from each other's heat and protection. 
  • If possible, relocate outdoor plants to more sheltered areas, like against a south-facing wall, to provide additional warmth. 
  • Ensure that your plants receive adequate water, especially during dry spells, as winter winds and sunlight can lead to dehydration. 
  • Cover your plants with frost cloths or blankets on particularly cold nights for extra protection. 
  • Regularly check soil moisture, as cold winds and low humidity can cause the soil to dry out. 
  • Before winter sets in, trim away any dead or damaged growth to help your plants focus energy on healthy parts and reduce the risk of diseases. 

Adapt these tips based on your specific plant varieties and the severity of winter conditions in your area.

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