While Texas winters aren’t as brutal as our states up north, this year’s freeze cautioned us to take extra measures during the upcoming colder months. As you stock up on extra throw-blankets and fuzzy scarves, consider changing your houseplant care routine to keep your plants alive and happy this winter.
The following guide provides several crucial tips to help your plants thrive during the upcoming months. Keep in mind that this is a generic guide to winter houseplant care. Different plants can vary in their winter-care needs, so per usual, do a little research on the winter requirements of your specific plants. As a general rule of thumb, try to mimic the winter conditions of the regions your plant species is native to.
Switch Up Your Watering Routine
If you’re an experienced gardener, you’re probably familiar with the term “growing season.” Most houseplants have their growing seasons from the early spring to late summer, and come winter, they are mostly done with their growing for the year.
Due to this, houseplants need less water in the winter, because they have a slower rate of growth, or go completely dormant. Reduce both the amount of water you give your plants, and the frequency of your waterings. Allow their soil to dry out between waterings; overwatering during the winter can be detrimental, leading to root rot.
Keep in mind that surface soil dries out much quicker than the soil beneath the surface, so test your soil moisture levels a few inches deep with a soil sensor (around $12 from Walmart or Home Depot), or for a free route, by sticking your fingers inside the soil and gauging it yourself.
Lastly, do not use cold water to water your plants. This is always risky to your plants, but particularly in the winter, as it can be shocking to its root system. Allow water to sit for a while and become room-temperature before waterings.
Be Mindful of Humidity Levels
In contrast with watering, most indoor houseplants require more humidity in the winter, to compensate for the low humidity levels in the environment. There are several easy ways to increase your household humidity. For a comprehensive list of techniques, visit this link.
Group together your plants. Plants transpire, or in other words, release water that they don’t absorb back into the atmosphere through their leaves and stems. This water then evaporates, increasing the humidity surrounding the plant. When you group your plants together, they transpire together, creating a mini rainforest-effect.
Consider purchasing a humidifier. You can find used ones for pretty cheap, and if you place them by your plants, they are an excellent way to increase humidity levels. Misting is another option, but this technique is only effective if done several times a day (but never at night, so that the water has the opportunity to evaporate).
You can also create DIY humidity trays by placing pebbles in trays, filling the trays with water (NOT above the top of the pebbles, as you don’t want your plants’ roots to touch the water), and putting your houseplants on or around the trays. Placing wide-mouthed jars of water around your plants has a similar effect: the water from the trays or jars will evaporate around the plants, increasing their humidity.
One last method is to group your plants together in a bathroom or kitchen, which naturally have the highest humidity levels in your home. Only consider this if you have grow-lights or windows that provide adequate lighting.
Pay Close Attention to Temperature
Most houseplants require warmer temperatures to survive. If you keep your plants close to a window, make sure that they aren’t too cold or being exposed to drafts. The same rule applies to your air conditioning units – keep your plants far away.
Counterintuitively, it is also dangerous to keep your plants close to heaters. Hot air can dry your plant out by decreasing its humidity levels. Lastly, it is usually more hazardous to your plant to be exposed to drastic temperature fluctuations, than it is for the plant to be exposed to constant too-cold or too-hot temperatures. Steady, safe temperatures are the ideal to shoot for. Proper placement is key.
Keep an Eye on Light
Providing your plant with adequate lighting during winter months is fundamental to its wellbeing. The upcoming months will bring about dramatically less sunlight hours and a lower sunlight angle. You may need to consider moving your plants from their summer positions, so that they are receiving proper light.
Keep in mind that, as mentioned above, it can be dangerous to place your plant too close to a window, thus exposing it to the cold. If your home does not have adequate lighting, and it’s too cold outside to take your plants out, consider purchasing grow-lights. Grow-lights can provide your plants with fantastic supplemental lighting, and they don’t have to be too expensive. Remember that artificial lighting sources are less intense than sunlight, so your plants will need to use them for longer periods of time than their usual sunlight requirements.
Wiping dust off of plant leaves and cleaning both sides of your windows has proven to increase the amount of sunlight your plants are able to absorb. In addition, it’s also helpful to rotate your plants 45 degrees during every watering, so that all leaves are exposed to sunlight.
Put Your Plants on a Diet
As discussed above, during the winter, most houseplants either go dormant or grow at much slower rates. You should not repot or fertilize most of your plants at all, as they can’t tolerate much disturbance.
If you choose to fertilize your plants, do so less frequently, and with a diluted mixture. You can resume regular feeding routines in the early spring.
Finally, Watch Out for Pests!
While many pests are considered summer nuisances, many varieties can be worse in the winter. In fact, “overwintering” pests, such as aphids and scale-insects, hide out in plants during the winter months to wait out the cold. Per usual, always quarantine plants for several days before bringing them from the outdoors into the indoors. Carefully inspect all parts for signs of pests.
You can read about pest extermination here, but for a quick (and free) tip, most pests can be killed off fairly effectively by simply washing them with a soap and water mixture. A bit of soap ending up on the soil is generally harmless, and can save your plant a lot of headache – or worse – if the problem gets out of hand.
Best of luck, and happy gardening!