By Ray Greenstreet
Alexandria, VA – With winter knocking at the door, we’ll soon be cozying around the fire, enjoying richer food, and suiting up for the weather. Your houseplants know what time of year it is, too, and they’ve slowly been preparing through the fall as the daylight wanes. Even so, fluctuating indoor temperatures, humidity changes, and lack of light can stress them out. Fortunately, if we care for them well, they’ll easily thrive through the winter months!
Did you know houseplants generally need fewer drinks over the winter? This may come as a surprise if you thought the warm air from your furnace would dry them out. But even if it’s drier inside, most houseplants need less water during the winter because their growth slows down. Plants you watered every few days may now be satisfied with a weekly drink. Others that you soaked every week may now be quenched every two weeks, or even less frequently.
Of course, this all depends on the type of houseplants you have. Succulents still need drier soil, and ferns still like more moisture than most. With most houseplants, keep a closer eye on the soil during the winter, probe the top inch with your finger regularly, and adjust water as necessary. Houseplants are often susceptible to root rot in the off-season, so make sure you’re not overwatering.
Respond to Changes in Humidity
Unless we have an expensive musical instrument to care for, we usually don’t pay close attention to our home’s humidity. But depending on our type of indoor heating, our moisture levels may change dramatically during the winter. Since many houseplants are native to tropical jungles, they need at least 50% humidity to thrive. Fortunately, if the furnace is drying out your home, there are easy ways to treat your plants to a humid microclimate.
One way is to cluster them together. As they naturally transpire water from their leaves, they’ll all benefit from the moisture they release. Another way is to mist them regularly with a spray bottle. This can help, but the mist can quickly evaporate in a dry winter home, so you may need to mist them more than once per day.
A popular option is to place a tray of small stones and water below the pot. The water will slowly evaporate and give the plants the humidity they need. At the same time, the stones raise the plant above the water level. Or, if you’ve got a sizeable urban jungle to care for, an inexpensive indoor humidifier might be your best bet.
Keep Temperatures Steady
While we may enjoy warmth around the fire or the occasional burst of cool air from an open window, houseplants prefer steady temperatures. They can’t put on a jacket or cool off with a walk outside, so keep them away from drafts, fireplaces, and open windows. Place them where temperatures remain in the cozy realm of 65-75 degrees.
Let in the Sun
The winter sun gives us shorter days, and the sunlight we do receive comes at a lower angle. This can make it hard for a plant to drink in all the light it needs. If you see leaves growing discolored or the plant reaching toward the window, it may be telling you it needs more sunlight. Try to move it to a sunnier spot or consider adding supplemental light. It may also help to rotate the plant regularly so that all of the leaves receive some rays. Keeping your windows clean and dusting the plant leaves also helps them absorb those golden rays.
Hold Off On Fertilizing
Just as we start craving hearty stews and decadent desserts in winter, a houseplant’s diet changes, too—except instead of craving more food, they need less! They’ve already fattened up for the winter when summer sunlight was on the menu, and by now, they’re happily resting and don’t need any extra food from us. In fact, a boost of nutrients may disrupt their natural dormancy period, so hold off on fertilizer until you see signs of growth in the spring.
As with all relationships, it’s important to keep an open dialogue with your plants, especially in winter. Watch for early indications of pests, which can still thrive at this time of year. If your plant gives you unusual signs, do your research well to pinpoint the problem or ask an expert. With seasonal changes in your watering, humidity, and lighting, you can enjoy the many benefits of houseplants year-round!