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How to Care for Houseplants During Dormancy

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How to Care for Houseplants During Dormancy


The changing of seasons brings a variety of transformations in the natural world. One such phenomenon is dormancy, a state of rest and conservation that many plants undergo to adapt to the dark, cold months. Dormancy is a key survival strategy for countless plant species, allowing plants to navigate and endure the challenges of harsh conditions.

Have you ever wondered if your beloved houseplants follow the same rhythm as outdoor trees, going into a quiet slumber during winter, considering that they live in a rather stable environment indoors? The short answer is yes, most houseplants take a bit of a break when it gets colder. While outdoor trees and houseplants both experience dormancy, there are significant differences in how this process unfolds due to their distinct environments and biological characteristics.

In fact, indoor plants have their own way of responding to the changing seasons. While they do slow down their growth and activity in the cold season, it's not as dramatic as what you'll find in the great outdoors. They have their little winter vacation, but it's a bit more low-key compared to the deep freeze that outdoor trees experience.

What Does Dormancy Mean To Plants?

Dormancy, for plants, is a period of rest or inactivity in response to adverse environmental conditions. It's a strategic survival mechanism that allows plants to endure challenging situations and emerge in a better state when conditions improve. Dormancy often occurs in response to specific environmental cues, such as decreasing daylight hours and temperature drops. This timing is crucial to maximize a plant's chances of survival. For example, deciduous trees drop their leaves in the fall to conserve water and energy before winter.

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Some houseplants will shed a few leaves during dormancy.

Photo by ANGHI

Indoor houseplants, ever-adaptive to their unique environments, also take on these cues. As daylight hours wane and temperatures drop, they too enter a period of reduced activity and growth. Their response to decreased light and cooler conditions is a testament to the remarkable adaptability of plants, even within the controlled confines of our indoor spaces. It's a reminder that the natural world's rhythms persist, even within the comfort of our homes.

During dormancy, plants significantly reduce their metabolic activity. This includes processes like photosynthesis, growth, and reproduction. By conserving energy, plants can survive periods when resources like light, water, and nutrients are limited.

Dormancy helps plants withstand harsh conditions. For example, in cold winter months, dormancy allows plants to endure freezing temperatures by reducing their susceptibility to frost damage.

Plants shift their energy and resources away from growth and reproduction. Instead, they focus on maintaining existing structures and storing energy in roots, stems, or bulbs for future use.

For some perennial plants, dormancy is part of their natural life cycle. It's a time when plants prepare for future growth and reproduction, allowing them to live for multiple years.

Houseplant Dormancy vs Outdoor Tree Dormancy

Houseplant dormancy and outdoor tree dormancy share some common principles, as both involve a period of reduced growth and metabolic activity in response to changing seasons. However, there are several key differences between the two:

1. Environmental Control:

Houseplants: The indoor environment for houseplants is relatively stable compared to outdoor conditions. While houseplants may experience seasonal changes in light and temperature, these fluctuations are typically less extreme than those outdoors.

Outdoor Trees: Outdoor trees are subject to more significant and unpredictable changes in temperature, light, and weather conditions. Their dormancy is often driven by the natural environment.

2. Intensity of Dormancy:

Houseplants: Houseplant dormancy is generally milder than that of outdoor trees. Houseplants may continue to grow at a reduced rate, and some may not enter dormancy at all.

Outdoor Trees: Outdoor trees typically undergo a more profound dormancy, which includes the shedding of leaves (deciduous trees) or a significant reduction in metabolic activity. Their dormancy is a survival strategy to withstand harsh outdoor conditions.

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Houseplants in dormancy

Photo by Victoria_Alex

3. Leaf Shedding:

Houseplants: While some houseplants may shed a few leaves during dormancy, many retain their foliage, and leaf loss is usually minimal.

Outdoor Trees: Most trees, during their dormancy, shed the majority of their leaves as a way to conserve energy and water during the winter months.

4. Seasonal Timing:

Houseplants: Houseplants may not follow the exact same seasonal cycle as outdoor trees, especially if they receive artificial lighting indoors. Their dormancy patterns can be influenced by indoor conditions and may not align perfectly with the outdoor seasons.

Outdoor Trees: Outdoor trees' dormancy is synchronized with the changing seasons and typically occurs in response to decreasing daylight hours and cooler temperatures.

5. Growth Resumption:

Houseplants: When conditions improve, such as with increased light and warmth, houseplants can exit dormancy and resume growth at various times of the year.

Outdoor Trees: Outdoor trees often have a more rigid schedule for resuming growth, with most of their growth occurring in spring and summer.

How To Care For Houseplants During Dormancy?

Caring for dormant houseplants involves understanding and respecting their natural life cycles. This period of rest and conservation is vital to their overall health and resilience.

  • Know Your Plant's Dormancy Patterns: Research and understand the specific dormancy patterns of your houseplants. Some may enter a deep dormancy with minimal activity, while others may exhibit slight growth even during this phase. Knowing what to expect from your specific plants is valuable.
  • Reduce Watering: Dormant houseplants require significantly less water than during their active growth periods. Be mindful not to overwater, as this can lead to root rot. Allow the soil to dry out more between waterings, but don't let it become bone dry.

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Bring houseplants to place where has more light.

Photo by DimaBerlin

  • Pruning and Maintenance: Use this time to inspect your plants for any dead or yellowing leaves and remove them. Pruning should be minimal, focusing on dead or damaged growth.
  • Maintain Adequate Light: While houseplants may experience reduced light during the winter months, make sure they still receive some indirect or filtered lightPosition them near a bright window but shield them from intense, direct sunlight that can scorch their foliage. You should also dust off the foliage, clean your window to allow more lighting to your plants. If there is too little natural light, it is recommended to use a grow lamp to provide your green friends with adequate lighting. 

  • Maintain Humidity: Indoor heating systems can lower indoor humidity levels, which can be challenging for some plants. Consider using a humidity tray, a room humidifier, or misting to maintain suitable moisture levels.
  • Avoid Repotting: It's generally not advisable to repot dormant houseplants unless absolutely necessary. Repotting can disrupt their rest period.
  • Monitor for Pests: Check your houseplants for signs of pests, which can be more active in indoor environments during the winter. If pests are present, take appropriate measures to address them
  • Maintain Air Circulation: Adequate air circulation around your plants helps prevent the buildup of excess moisture and reduces the risk of mold or mildew. Open the doors and windows regularly or use a fan. 
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Use humidifier to increase humidity levels for houseplant in winter
Photo by DimaBerlin


  • Group Similar Plants:Consider grouping houseplants with similar dormancy requirements together. This makes it easier to provide them with appropriate care during their rest period.
  • Consideration for Succulents and Cacti: If you have succulents or cacti among your houseplants, their care during dormancy can be different. These desert plants may require even less water than other houseplants during the dormant phase. Be especially cautious with watering, as they are susceptible to overhydration.
  • Transition to Spring: As daylight hours lengthen and temperatures rise in the spring, gradually increase watering and resume a regular fertilization schedule. Your houseplants will naturally come out of dormancy and start exhibiting signs of renewed growth and vitality.

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