Gearing up for Winter: Guiding Your Indoor Plants Through the Cold Months
Drastic seasons like summer and winter lead to critical measures to support our plants during seasonal shifts. But most people focus solely on their more obviously affected greenery, the outdoor and garden plants. However, even though we don't necessarily feel it as dramatically, the indoor environment also changes— meaning that houseplants need to be cared for differently during the colder period of the year too.
Accounting for temperature adjustments, sunlight changes, and moisture fluctuations, we’ll assess how to provide the best conditions for indoor plants. We’ll also discuss how the plant is extra vulnerable during this time and exactly how to (and why) change our plant care routine.
It’s helpful to remember that most houseplants are native to tropical regions of the world. Since they’re accustomed to extreme conditions of high humidity (above 80%) and warm weather (above 80°F), it makes sense that our winters, even indoors, can stress these plants. But while they may seem finicky at home (esp. when we change the thermostat over to heat), they’re really quite resilient and adaptable. These useful tips will help you keep your plant babes in tip-top shape through those chilly dark months.
Why do plants need different care during the winter?
Basically, plants depend on energy from light, water, temperature, and nutrients to survive. In the winter, these factors change, which in turn slows a plant’s metabolism— its transpiration rate decreases, photosynthesis lowers, and growth declines.
- Light Changes & Plant Placement
During winter, the amount and angle of sunlight vastly differ from the warmer seasons due to shorter days and the tilt of the earth. With significantly less daylight entering your home and weaker light intensity, plants notice and respond to these effects. This means you may have to relocate certain plants to sunnier areas of your home as darkness falls earlier on the day. Try to move plants to southern or western-facing windows as they receive the most amount of sunlight. Northern windows experience the least amount of sunlight and warmth all year long. However, if you have no viable options for a sunny space, you can always invest in a grow light (they work wonders!).
Sunlight requirements will largely depend on the type of plant, and some plants may not need to be moved at all if they’re tolerant of environmental changes. Simple monitoring of your houseplants can help you decide if you need to change to a location with more sunlight penetration. You’ll specifically lookout for foliage changes on new leaves as too little natural light will result in duller and smaller growth. In addition, remember to clean each plant’s leaves regularly so they can properly take in sunlight— simply wipe with a damp cloth!
- Temperature & Humidity Shifts
As the weather outside changes, so does the temperature inside. During the winter months, it will likely be a bit cooler indoors too— with dry, heating-produced warm drafts. Your plant likely feels these differences, and trying to combat any temperature issues could cause plant stress.
To help with these household environment changes, try to keep the winter thermostat at a reasonable temperature (between 65-70°F). Or if you need your home cooler or warmer, make the change gradually instead of shocking your plant with a drastic difference. Another tip is to keep your home’s humidity levels up. In winter most homes measure only 5-10% humidity, and houseplants like moisture closer to 40%-50%. To combat this dryness, consider running a humidifier and place plants away from heaters so they don’t dry out. Also, if areas near windows are extra chilly or drafty, scoot the plant away a few feet (and don’t worry about sunlight not reaching the interior of your home, rays actually scatter farther during winter due to the sun’s low angle).
So how much should I water during winter?
It depends on the plant and the region you live, but as a general rule of thumb, water half as much in winter as you normally would in warmer months. If you live in a temperate climate, however, you may not need to change your plant care habits that much or at all. Simply check each plant’s soil for moisture (wiggle your finger a couple of inches deep into the soil) and only water once that top later is mostly dried out.
Since your plant’s growth is slow during winter and needs less, remember that overwatering can drown your plant and lead to root rot. Look out for warning signs that you’re giving your plant too much— like droopy and/or yellowing leaves. Don’t be too concerned if some plants drop leaves or stop flowering during the winter season as this is normal. During this period of partial dormancy for many plants, allow them to take that break to rest and just be. This is actually a crucial time in the plant’s cycle, and they’ll be ready to go next season when spring spurs new growth.
Since your indoor plants aren’t expending much energy during winter, it makes sense that they don’t need to take in a lot of energy. So shy away from repotting or fertilizing in the winter. If necessary, late winter provides an opportune time to prune certain houseplants. Do look out for any pests and be sure to take care of any immediately as your plant is more vulnerable during this period.
Winter Houseplant Care Checklist:
- Make sure plants aren’t placed too close to cold windows or drafty areas.
- Ensure plants also aren’t too exposed to your source of heat flow (radiators, vents, standalone heaters, etc.).
- Each plant only needs half as much as you otherwise typically would provide— cutting back on water is essential!
- Consider creating more humidity in the dry winter household air (either by using a humidifier near plants or lightly misting the plant’s leaves with water a few times per week).
- Preventional Care:
- Monitor plants for pests weekly and, as needed, remedy immediately.
- Wait until spring to fertilize or repot.
- Lastly, just allow your plant to rest in order to build up for a healthy fruitful spring and summer.
Winter can seem long and draining, even for our plants. But as March approaches, start thinking about the sunlight changes once again. The days will start getting longer, daylight savings will revert back over, and the angle of the sun will begin producing more direct light intensity. It'll be time for spring, fresh growth, and another new plant-care routine.