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Tips for Keeping Your Houseplants Healthy in Winter

Tuesday, December 15, 2020   /   by Frank Hornstein

Tips for Keeping Your Houseplants Healthy in Winter

Tips for Keeping Your Houseplants Healthy in Winter

Winter can be one of the easiest times to accidentally kill your houseplants. Lower light levels, dry air and temperature fluctuations with indoor heat can all create challenging growing conditions. Without switching up your care routine, your best intentions — such as keeping the soil moist — can cause houseplants to decline or give up altogether.

These eight tips can help you change up your care routine over winter and set up your houseplants to thrive until spring.

Kit Republic

Dial Back Water

Most houseplants, with a few exceptions, go dormant in winter and need far less water than they do the rest of the year. How frequently you need to water depends on the plant type, temperature and dryness of your indoor environment and plant’s placement (mainly, how far it is from a radiator or other heating unit). Allowing the soil to dry out between waterings can help prevent root rot.

H and G Designs

A good rule of thumb for dormant plants is to allow the top 2 inches of soil to dry out between waterings and wait until the pot, when lifted, feels relatively lightweight. (This means there’s no heavy, soggy soil at the bottom.) You may be able to wait from two weeks up to a month between waterings, depending on the temperature and humidity level of the room.

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Indoor citrus plants and lucky bamboo are two common exceptions to the rule and require consistent moisture during winter. While citrus plants need less water than they do in summer, winter is the fruiting period. Be careful not to let the soil dry out completely, which can lead to fruit drop. Lucky bamboo needs to be kept moist year-round and can be cultivated in jars of water instead of moist soil.

Serret Residential

Move Plants to Maximize Light

With fewer daylight hours and less intensity of ultraviolet in winter, houseplants that were thriving in one spot may need to be moved closer to windows where they’ll receive more light. Wash windows inside and out to maximize how much light can reach indoor plants, and your room will feel brighter — something that’s always welcome in the darkest months of the year.

KCreative Interiors

Give Plants a Rinse for Dust

Broad-leafed house plants like ficus, some palms, bird of paradise tree (Strelitzia nicolai) and rubber plant (Ficus elasticacan quickly collect a lot of dust, cutting down on their ability to take in light. You can easily rinse off small potted plants by bringing them into the shower and spraying the leaves with cool water (and giving them their monthly or bi-monthly watering while you’re at it). For large potted plants, use a damp cloth to wipe down the leaves.

Michelle Salz-Smith, ASID, CID, NCIDQ

Move Plants Away From Heaters

As we turn up the heat in winter, it can be easy to forget the effects increased temperature has on houseplants, particularly those in close proximity to heating units. To eliminate any risk of toasting leaves or roots, move all houseplants well away from radiators. If you keep your home on the warm side, check to make sure the soil in pots never gets bone-dry (the pot will be very lightweight when lifted).

E. Interiors

Do a Bug Check

Regularly check houseplants for signs of pests, isolate infected plants and treat rapidly. Indoor plants are often more susceptible to pests and, once they get them, it’s harder for houseplants to shake them off in the absence of natural predators like insects or birds.

Spider mites are common on houseplants like fiddleleaf fig (Ficus lyrata) and show up as tiny, powdery white specks on leaves and in areas where leaf stems meet the trunk. Remove by squashing them between your fingers, then wipe leaves with a damp cloth or diluted horticultural oil.

Ellie Lillstrom Photography

Hold the Fertilizer Until Spring

Just as dormant plants don’t need much water, they also don’t need to be fertilized. At best, the fertilizer will just go to waste and be washed out of the pot. At worst, fertilizer applied in winter and not taken in by the plant can build up in the potted soil to levels that are unhealthy to the plant. Hold off until spring for any houseplants you feed regularly.

Beth Kooby Design

Repot, If Needed

Two signs to look for if your plant needs repotting: yellowing leaves or the pot won’t hold much water — there’s barely space for soil due to pot-bound roots. Winter is a good time to upgrade plants to larger containers before they start their spring growth. Repot by gently tugging the plant out of the pot, loosening any root-bound roots and placing in a larger container with fresh
potting soil.

Christy Allen Designs

Get a Humidifier

If you live in an arid climate or keep the heat on in winter, a humidifier can make a big difference in keeping tropical houseplants healthy in dry indoor environments. In place of a humidifier, plan on frequently hand-misting plants like orchids, ferns and bromeliads that appreciate more humidity.

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Alexander White

Your turn: Are houseplants cheering up your indoor environment this season? In the Comments, tell us how you keep them happy and healthy.

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