How to look after houseplants in winter
During the winter, caring for your houseplants requires a different routine from those warm and bright summer months. With a cold frost settling over your garden plants, your indoor plant pots are often kept toasty warm inside your home.
For tropical plants, that may seem ideal. However, the conditions in our homes over winter can prove challenging for many houseplants that thrived during spring, summer and autumn.
At Gardeners Dream, we have consulted our expert horticulturalists to create this guide to house plant care over winter. If you are new to gardening and want to start with plants that are easy to care for during the winter months, take a look at our easy to care for indoor plant collection.
Reduce watering routine
In the winter, houseplants require less frequent watering than usual. Care for houseplants often requires you to reduce water or even stop watering completely. Too much watering is the leading cause of plant death. We’d even go so far as to say you should ignore the “does the soil feel dry” test.
Rather than waiting for the top centimetre of soil to dry out, wait for your plant to dry out by approximately 50% before adding a little water. For many plants that require a couple of drinks a week, you can drop your watering schedule to once a week or even once every 10 days.
With light levels dropping in the winter, many plants slow growth or become dormant entirely. As a result, they require less water than usual or even none at all, which is common for many succulents and cacti in our rare and unusual house plant collection.
Yellow leaves in the winter could be a warning sign that the plant has too much water or plant food. Resist trying to save the plant with further hydration and food until spring arrives.
Avoid many plant pests
Your indoor garden plants are at risk of falling prey to numerous plant pests and diseases in the winter. With a warm and cosy indoor temperature, an increase in misting to correct the humidity (see below), and potentially excess water from over-watering, you may create the perfect conditions for pests to thrive.
Your beloved plants could also fall foul to root rot, which is another major drawback to being too liberal with the watering can.
To learn more about pests, including how to identify and remove them, read our article “Common house plant bugs”.
Move indoor plants together
With reduced natural light and warm temperature zones dotted throughout your house, grouping houseplants together may be essential to provide them with the environment they need. While crowding a single window with your entire plant collection may not be a visual stunner, it can be an effective way to deliver winter care.
By grouping plants together near heat sources or by a window, you can actually create a humid microclimate. Add a shallow tray filled with water and pebbles to naturally boost humidity further.
Extra tip: thoroughly check each plant for pests before moving them in close proximity to one another, to prevent cross-contamination. You should also make sure that re-arranging plants don’t place them in the path of curious pets and babies – not all plants are non-toxic. To find out if your plants are pet-friendly read our article “Which houseplants are safe for cats?” or reach out to us at Gardeners Dream for bespoke advice.
Misting plants for humidity
Heat sources in your home, such as central heating, do a good job of increasing the temperature. However, your indoor garden can really suffer if the dry air saps away the humid conditions they need to thrive.
Humidity is a key aspect of care for houseplants. We recommend regular misting with cold water for many of our plants, such as the Swiss Cheese Plant and the Ficus Abidjan Rubber Plant. When the humidity level of the air drops, increasing the frequency of misting with tepid water is advisable. Unlike watering the soil, this won’t water-log your plants or risk a bad case of root rot.
Not all the plants in your home will require daily misting. For some cacti varieties, too much moisture is a bad idea. However, regardless of whether the plant has entered a dormant period or not, you should increase your misting schedule if it usually enjoys mist during the summer months of the year.
Signs of low humidity to look out for include curling leaves that are beginning to crisp or becoming brown at the edges.
Provide as much light as possible
Temperature and humidity are important, but so are light levels. With the winter sun in the sky, we receive fewer hours of natural light. Most houseplants, even those that thrive in shady areas, will need to move a few metres closer to the window during the winter.
Plants that like shade will do better with indirect light. Just be careful not to suddenly expose these plants to direct sunlight – it won’t cure weak growth, but it will damage the leaves. Plants that enjoy direct sun beams can be placed directly on windowsills. Be gentle when moving your plants, as some are sensitive to movement and will need a little time to become accustomed to their new spot in your home.
Some plants can also utilise artificial light until the spring sun reappears. For expert tips on your specific plant varieties, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Gardeners Dream!
Dust with a damp cloth
Even with more sunlight and less water, winter care for your plants still needs to be hands-on. Despite the winter season not falling within the growing season, your plant requires sunlight and fresh air nonetheless.
It can be tempting to keep the windows tightly shut in the darker months, to prevent cold drafts and chills that will damage your plants (a valid concern). But a static home environment may do more harm than you realise.
With the windows shut, the fine layers of dust that settle on the surfaces in our homes don’t automatically avoid our leafy friends! Dusting your plant leaves is important for plant health – it allows the plant to absorb as much sunlight as it possibly can. The trick is to be gentle and use a slightly damp microfibre cloth. Vigorous dusting can result in snapped stems and dropped leaves, so be careful!
As a bonus, dusting plants with a damp cloth can also help to remove pests such as spider mites and maintain the natural beauty of glossy, pest-free foliage.
Reduce Cold Air Exposure
Cold drafts that creep in through door jams, window panes, and poor insulation are a cause for concern for houseplants in winter. Any gardening expert will know that taking care of houseplants involves placing them in an environment they are comfortable with. For example, the Maranta Fascinator Tricolour Plant cannot stand temperatures below 15°C or is placed in rooms with regular temperature fluctuations.
Heated homes tend to fluctuate in the colder months, from chilly at night when the heating is off to toasty warm in the mornings when we wake up. To prevent these large temperature fluctuations, try placing your plant pots in a location that’s consistently warm. For example, a bathroom or kitchen, as these rooms are used most frequently. As a bonus, you’ll also find higher humidity in these rooms.
Reducing cold draughts is also important, but you don’t want to block out the airflow in your home entirely. So, focus on blocking drafts that come in from outdoors or the garden and allow air to cycle more freely within the four walls of your home.
Avoid feeding dormant plants
In an effort to keep your houseplants alive, you may be tempted to add a little plant fertiliser to your indoor garden. This would be a mistake. In the winter, houseplants slow growth to a snail’s pace – if the houseplants grow at all. With no growth, most houseplants do not need any fertiliser.
Adding fertiliser to your indoor plants will not encourage new growth. The fertiliser will sit in the soil and could even damage the roots of your plants.
Actively growing plants may require a little assistance, but you should drastically reduce the amount of food they receive. You can stop feeding most plants (only water a little as needed) to see them through the cooler months.
How often should I water houseplants in winter?
Most houseplants only need water in the winter months when 50% of the soil is dry. Check the soil of your tropical plants for dryness and water sparingly. Too much water can lead to root rot!
Should I mist houseplants in winter?
Yes! Misting indoor plants in the winter is essential, as the air is very dry at this time of year. Lack of humidity can cause plant leaves to curl, go brown, or drop unnecessarily.
Do houseplants need feeding in winter?
Most houseplants do not need any fertiliser in the winter. During the winter months, indoor plants cease growing and many enter a dormant phase. Plant food at this time of year can cause nutrient toxicity – even for flowering plants.