Caring for Your Houseplants This Winter

December 1, 2021

As fall’s cool temperatures become winter cold, many people move their potted plants indoors or buy new houseplants to add color and vibrancy to a season that requires spending a lot of time indoors. Here are some tips to help you look after your new housemates.

Water carefully: Most plants enter some form of dormancy this time of year and so need less water than they normally would. If you notice that the top layer of dirt in a pot is dry, you may be tempted to provide a deep soaking to keep the soil moist. Unfortunately, at this time of year, that soak may do more harm than good, increasing the risk of root rot.

Instead of just checking the surface, push a finger about an inch deep to assess the moisture at that level. (This low-tech approach is actually more reliable than an electronic water meter, since those can be thrown off by certain fertilizers and soil types.) The best way to ensure that you’re watering appropriately is regularly checking on the health of your plants.

Reduce fertilizer: Many plants have evolved to store enough nutrients to survive their dormant period. If a plant is healthy, any additional food we supply is unlikely to be absorbed and therefore is essentially wasted. it probably doesn’t need this kind of support. If you’re genuinely convinced that your plants need a little some extra, add water to dilute the fertilizer to a 50% solution.

Follow the light: Hibernating plants require only a small amount of sunlight, but even that can be a challenge to provide in winter. Try to make use of all your available window space, especially if it faces south or west. You may find that you need to add a plant lamp to cover all of your needs. No matter the source of the light, rotate each plant at every watering to even out the amount of light that each side receives.

Maintain moderate temperatures: One trait that people and plants have in common is a preference for a relatively temperate environment, between 65° and 75°F during the day and no lower than 50°F at night. Keep them away from potential sources of drafts and wide variations in temperature like ovens, fireplaces, vents, and doorways.

Humidify: HVAC systems and space heaters tend to reduce indoor humidity levels to as low as 10% to 20%. It may not be practical to reach the level that plants prefer, around 50%, but every increase helps. In addition to placing a humidifier near your largest concentration of plants, consider placing some plants in bathroom to take advantage of their higher moisture levels.

Rock those saucers: If a plant is sitting in a saucer full of drainage water, the soil at the bottom of the pot is saturated, preventing roots from reaching deeper. The best preventative is emptying your saucers regularly, which can be a pain. Alternatively, fill saucers with pebbles and place plants on top of the rocks. The pots will be above the water level, and leaving water in the saucers will add just a bit of that beneficial moisture to the air.

Houseplants can help to fend off the winter blues by adding visual variety to the interior of your home (not to mention the steady supply of fresh oxygen). These tips will help to keep them healthy until spring rolls around again.