Sunny tips for keeping houseplants healthy through the dark days of winter

Photo by putevodnik

During these months of a stark landscape and scarce light, it can be a wonderful gift to come home to a home full of lush plants. It’s not just our imaginations—houseplants do have the ability to lift our spirits and improve quality of life. They naturally humidify and purify indoor air, and are, of course, a pleasure to look at. 

With the low light, dry air, and chillier temps of winter, it’s no wonder that many houseplants are barely hanging on by spring. A few basic changes to the way you care for your plants in winter can make a world of difference.  

Let there be light

With short days and the sun lower in the sky, plants sitting near windows get about 50% less light in winter than summer. Houseplants need help coping with the change in light levels.

Shift plants to brighter locations, ideally near south- or western-facing windows where light is most abundant.

Clean your windows and dust off your plants to maximize light transmission.

Add artificial light. Grow lights are great, but florescent bulbs can also do the trick. Plus, they’re cheaper!

Go easy on the watering

While it may feel counterintuitive to give your plants less water in winter when indoor air is drier, keep in mind that winter is the dormant period for houseplants. Plants that aren’t growing much don’t need to drink much. Too much watering results in root rot. Pay attention to your soil’s moisture level and only water when soil is completely dry. How do you know when your plant is thirsty?

Check the plant’s weight for a quick and easy way to assess whether your plant needs a drink. Simply lift the pot. If it feels lighter than expected, the soil is probably dry.

You can also feel the soil—but don’t just test the surface! Poke your finger into the soil to a depth of at least 2 inches. If the root zone is dry, give it some water.

When you do need to water, use room temperature water, and don’t allow your plants to sit for too long in the water that drains into the drainage saucer. Once the plant has absorbed what it’s going to absorb, empty the extra water from the saucer to avoid root rot and mold.

Get steamy

Heating our homes removes moisture from the air. Most houseplants do best in 40-50 percent humidity, and our homes tend to be much drier than that in winter. There are several easy ways to amp up the humidity for your moisture-loving houseplants:

Cluster plants near each other. Plants naturally transpire moisture through their leaves, so keeping them together allows other plants to make use of that moisture.

When there is ample light, move your plants to the bathroom or kitchen for the winter, where steam from showers and boiling water increases humidity.

Use a humidifier in the vicinity of your plants throughout the winter months. Don’t forget to fill and clean it regularly.

You can easily create a home-made plant humidifier by spreading pebbles or gravel on a tray and filling the tray half-way with water. Set plant pots on the gravel, making sure the bottom of the pots is above the water line. Water will evaporate from the tray and increase humidity.

Many people spray their plants with a water mister. While it does make the plants look beautifully refreshed, very little of the sprayed water is able to be absorbed by the plant.

Watch the temp

Most plants are comfortable in daytime temperatures between 65° to 75°F (kinda like people). Be considerate of your plants’ temperature needs by keeping them away from sources of extreme temps.

Keep plants away from:

  • frosty windows
  • drafts
  • radiators
  • blown heat

No need to feed

During winter, houseplants transition into a semi-dormant, slow-growth state. Though your own winter survival plan might include bulking up on bacon mac-n-cheese, your plants don’t need that kind of comfort.

Feeding houseplants in winter actually disrupts a plant’s natural growth cycle. Hold off on the fertilizing until spring when you first notice new leaves and buds emerging.

Prune

Limited light causes some plants looking for light to get leggy. Trimming back leggy growth will concentrate resources enhance a plant’s branches and fullness.


Pay a little extra attention to your houseplants this winter. You’ll continue to benefit from the many pleasantries of the presence of plants in your home, and your plants will come out of the winter raring to grow!

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