Winter can be a tricky time of year to care for houseplants. Humidity levels drop, as does the amount of sunlight during the day. For some plants, this poses little risk; for others, they may not survive.
We chatted with three plant professionals to get their expert winter houseplant care advice to make sure your plant survives.
1.) Water: Less or More?
Summer is when outdoor and indoor plants thrive—rapidly growing and soaking up water. So, it makes sense to follow a regular watering schedule. But, in winter, what do you do?
Continue to Monitor
First, you must continue to monitor soil moisture with the finger method or a moisture meter, just like during the summer.
As a professional, Karen Musgrave, with Hicks Nurseries, mentions: “Check your plants weekly to see if they need water. Stick your finger about an inch down into the soil. If the soil feels dry, water. If the soil feels moist or you need clarification on whether it is moist or dry, wait a few days and check again. Overwatering is the number one killer of houseplants.”
Let that sink in a minute; overwatering is the most common way houseplants die.
Skip The Guessing & Use a Self-Watering Planter
Shane Pliska, president of Planterra, added: “Winter can create a conundrum for watering houseplants. On the one hand, when plants receive less light, they need less water. However, on the other hand, your interior is likely drier, and more evaporation will cause the need to water your plants more.
“Additionally, depending on your exposures, your plants may get more direct light through windows in the winter as the light comes in at an angle and exterior trees which may have shaded a window is defoliated. This is very specific to your interior environment.
“The professionals use sub-irrigation for self-watering planters. These are very helpful year-round but especially in the winter, as the water reservoir at the bottom of these planters stores water, which gives you a break from needing to check the soil more frequently – and the ability to leave town for two weeks without watering.”
So, if you want to care for your plants like a pro, check out self-watering planters, as Shane suggests. It may be an additional cost and item to set up, but once you get it going, it is way better in the long run.
You lower the risks of overwatering or underwatering during all seasons.
Brand Recommendation & Potential Concerns
Your next question will likely be, “where can you find a self-watering planter?” Shane recommends one: “Lechuza is a good brand. Lechuza is offered by many independent garden center retailers.”
Sound too good to be true? When asked about the potential concern with this planter style, he mentioned how the plant being root bound could: “The only concern with sub-irrigated planters occurs many years later – such as when the planter becomes root bound and should be re-potted.”
2.) Light: How to Handle Lower Levels of Sunlight
Many indoor houseplants are native to tropical climates. Such as the popular vining pothos plant.
These tropical plants are used to having 8-10 hours of sunlight throughout the day. We talked to James from Exubia, for his thoughts on handling this: “Although there’s little that can be done about the amount of light available, there are a few steps houseplant enthusiasts can take to help them adapt to the lack of light.
Move Your Plant to The Best Location
“One of the first and most obvious steps is to place your plants in the lightest spot in your house and keep the windows & blinds open.
“Often, this isn’t possible due to logistical challenges, so in these scenarios, a mirror or plant stand can be a useful addition to ensure your plant gets better access to sunlight.
Plant Stands & Mirrors
“Wooden plant stands will help give your pot a few extra feet of height and help raise it above other taller items that may be obstructing the light.
“Meanwhile, cleverly positioned mirrors can be used to redirect sunlight onto a plant placed in a darker corner or spot.
“While it may be tempting to place your houseplants in the conservatory so that they receive maximum light, putting your plant in a poorly insulated conservatory can be a counter-productive decision.
“most popular houseplants require a lot of light, they also require a decent amount of warmth. As a result, if your conservatory drops below 13°C, we recommend against introducing your plants to this space.
Rotation Might Required to Prevent Wilting
“Finally, if you notice that the part of your plant facing away from the window is wilting, then you have two options. The first option is to rotate your plant regularly, although this effectively halves the amount of sunlight any part of your plant will receive.
Separate Foliage From Proper Lighting
“The second (superior) option is to separate the foliage so that the sunlight filters and reaches through the plant. Bamboo stalks can be picked up for a relatively low cost and can help separate leaves & stems that seem determined to bunch together, blocking light for the leaves behind.”
Shane also chimes in on handling lower light levels: “Shorter, darker days can take a toll on your houseplants. When plants receive less light, they produce less energy to sustain their foliage and, therefore, will shed the foliage they cannot support.
“Consider adding a supplemental light above your plants to reduce the yellow leaves and leaf drop.
A brand of indoor grow lights that Shane’s company uses is Solitech Solutions. According to the Solitech website, they also provide plant lighting to large companies such as Google and Etsy. And seem to get excellent reviews on Amazon and other online platforms from users.
“Supplemental lights are only effective when the light comes from above (shining down on top of the leaves like the sun). Uplights can be attractive but will not contribute to photosynthesis as the cells which absorb the light are on the top of the leaf.
When most people think of grow lights, they think rainbow colored lighting that can look out of place in a home. But, the Solitech lights, and others, look like modern everyday lighting, as Shane described: “you don’t need an unattractive pink or purple to grow light to keep your plants healthy. The most common green-leafed foliage houseplants will do fine in the pleasant white spectrum (4300K to 4800K) as long as it has enough intensity shining from above.”
If you add supplemental downlighting, we recommend using LED lighting to reduce energy usage. In addition, additional lighting can help the plant and increase the viewing of your plants.
Not only will the additional lighting help plant health and viewing, but it also adds to your home’s decor. As Shane mentions: “Your windowsill doesn’t need to look like an elementary school science class.
“Don’t be fooled by plant geeks that you must compromise beauty to keep plants alive in the winter. Instead, keep your plants beautiful with attractive lights.”
Keep Your Windows Clean
If you’re going to keep the plants next to the window without grow lights, Karen adds one more tip: “Clean your windows so you can be sure your plants will get the most light possible. Also, consider giving your plants a shower/rinse monthly to remove dust on the leaves.”
As Karen points out, dust can block the amount of light leaves receive- hampering photosynthesis. Therefore, keeping leaves clean during winter when plants struggle for sunlight makes sense.
3.) Fertilizer: Stay The Same, or Decrease?
With the main two winter houseplant care items out of the way (light and water), next is fertilizer. Of course, all plants need nutrients to stay healthy, but how much do they need during this time of year?
Karen suggests reducing plant fertilizer: “In the winter, when the days are shorter, plants do not need to be fertilized. This is because they are basically hibernating for winter. Light feedings can resume in March, with full feedings from April through November when temperatures are warmer, days are longer, and plants are actively growing.”
James agreed: “The same applies to fertilizer; although plants require nutrition all year round – it can be helpful to slightly reduce the amount of fertilizer you are using compared to the quantity used during the summertime.”
4.) Temperature: Keep it Steady
During the winter our home’s heating system will be cycling on and off, fluctuating in temperature- especially if allowed to drop at night.
On top of this, the outside temperature also drops at night. Therefore, move them away from windows in the evening, and keep an eye on how low the thermostat dips.
Drafty windows and doors could cause further problems.
You want a steady temperature in a range that fits your plants.
Karen adds: “Houseplants like the same indoor temperatures as we do, but they do not like extremes. Ideally, a 65-75 degrees temperature range is best with about 50-60 percent humidity.”
Along with the cold, it’s also essential for your plants to avoid heat sources such as fireplaces and radiators, as they could cause your plant to dry out.
5.) Healthy Plants Equals Healthy People
Your houseplants can help you monitor and adjust your home’s conditions. As Shane points out: “I often say that a plant is like a canary in your home environment; when your plants are healthy, you have a healthy environment for people too.
“We keep houseplants for the beauty, extra humidity, companionship, and the overall qualities that make us happy, a human condition called biophilia. So, when you make your choices for your plants, do it for yourself and your family.”
6.) Sometimes, You Have to Work With What You Have
While the suggestions above will undoubtedly lead to greater chances of our houseplant thriving during winter- not everyone can add additional lighting or is going to get self-watering planters.
Instead, sometimes you just have to make the best of your situation, as Karen ends with: “I think the most important tip is to work with what you have.
“Only have room for a houseplant near a drafty cold door? Choose cyclamen! Want to add a plant for your humid, sunny bathroom? Try a tillandsia! There is a plant to fit every situation.”
That is the vital thing to remember. Even if your houseplant dies, don’t give up growing plants. Each plant and experience will help you increase your skill set.
Start with low-maintenace plants like Snake plants, Aloe Vera, and pothos (check out the new Baltic Blue variety). Then, as your experience grows, you can add indoor plants that require more specialized care.