9 tips you should know to care for houseplants in winter

9 tips you should know to care for houseplants in winter

Winter is known as the quiet season in the garden because most outdoor plants don't do much. It's the same for your indoor garden. Of course, your houseplants don't have to endure snow and cold winds sweeping across the landscape. However, the growing conditions in your home change in many subtle ways during the cooler, darker months of the year. You'll need to adjust how you care for your houseplants in the winter to keep them healthy and thriving. Use these tips to ensure your leafy friends continue to fill your home with their natural beauty through the depths of winter.

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1. Reduce watering.

“Winter means less light, and in general, less light means less water,” says Erin Marino of The Sill. The more sunlight a plant receives, the thirstier it becomes over time, Marino explains. With limited sunlight in the winter, plants use less water than when they are actively growing in the spring and summer. “A plant you watered every week in the summer may now prefer to go two weeks without water,” Marino says. Choose a smaller watering can (such as Better Homes & Gardens Copper-Colored Watering Can .71-gallon, $15, Walmart) to avoid the temptation to overwater.

Instead of following a schedule, it's better to check the texture of the potting mix before watering. Insert your finger at least one inch into the soil. If it is dry, water the plant well. If it is wet, wait a few more days and check the soil again. If you prefer not to get your fingers dirty, use a hygrometer. “Remember, it's easier to add water than it is to remove it! So, lean toward the underwater side if you want to be extra careful,” Marino says.

2. Pay attention to sunlight.

When the sun rises late and sets early, plants receive less sunlight than in spring and summer. If possible, you may want to move your plants closer to windows so they can take advantage of as much light as possible. If they're on the ground, consider placing them on a plant stand (similar to the Better Homes & Gardens 12-Inch Dia Willow Sage Beige Planter, $23, Walmart) to bring them closer to natural light. Rotate the pot a quarter turn each week to ensure all sides of your plants get sunlight from time to time. If boosting light levels isn't an option for you, most plants will be fine. “Your indoor plants will adapt to the seasonal change outside,” Marino says.

3. Don't worry about some leaves falling off.

“When you bring houseplants that spent the summer outside back inside, they will likely drop some of their leaves,” Marino says. “This is completely normal, as they are adapting to lower light levels indoors.” If your plants stay indoors all year, it's also normal for them to shed a small amount of leaves in the winter, Marino says. Leaves falling due to winter are houseplants' way of preparing for lower light levels and there is nothing to worry about.

4. Avoid extreme temperatures.

Typical household temperatures that you feel comfortable in are suitable for most houseplants during the winter. But extreme temperature changes, even for a short period, can cause problems. Keep plants away from cold drafts, radiators and hot air vents. “Sudden hot or cold drafts can stress plants, cause cold damage, or dehydrate them until they become brittle,” Marino says.

5. Temporarily stop fertilizer.

Most houseplants rest in the winter. They tend to grow very little, if at all. Since they do not produce new leaves and stems, they do not need fertilizer. Stop fertilizing in the fall and resume again in the spring when the plants receive more sunlight, which stimulates them to grow actively again.

6. Controlling houseplant pests.

Winter is the time for small sap-sucking insects such as aphids and scales to appear. Spider mites are another common winter pest because they like warm, dry conditions. Turn the plant's leaves over and check their undersides each time you water it. Check along the stems as well. If you find any lesions, try wiping them with your fingers or an alcohol-soaked cotton swab. For larger infestations, insecticidal soap and neem oil are safer options for getting rid of houseplant pests.

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7. Raising the humidity level.

The air inside our heated homes tends to be drier in the winter months. Most houseplants, especially those originally from tropical regions of the world, grow best when humidity levels range between 40-50%, but winter humidity levels are typically 10-20% indoors. A simple way to increase humidity around plants is to group them together. Water evaporation from the potting soil as well as water lost naturally through the leaves will raise the relative humidity around your plants.

Another easy way to increase humidity is to place plants on trays filled with pebbles and water. The bottoms of the pots should be above the water level to avoid root rot. When water evaporates, it creates a more humid microclimate for your houseplants.

Garden Test Tip: Spraying plants is not an effective way to increase humidity. Studies have found that misting should be done several times a day to raise the humidity level enough to make a difference. It would be better to use a humidifier nearby.

8. Keep the foliage clean.

Make the most of the limited winter sunlight that makes its way to growing foliage by removing dust and dirt from the foliage. Microfiber dusting gloves are useful for larger leaves, but a damp cloth will be fine for wiping down each leaf. Or give the entire plant a quick rinse in the shower for a brief cleaning of the foliage.

9. Resistance to repotting houseplants.

Plants take well to repotting when actively growing. This is why spring and summer are the best times to repot houseplants. You may be tempted to get your hands in some soil and repot it in the depths of winter. Doing this may shock dormant or dormant houseplants, so resist the urge (and try starting some seeds to quell cabin fever instead).

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