Winter Houseplant Care: Tips to Keep your Indoor Plants Thriving Through the Season

Posted on Jan 24, 2019

The last cold gold sun rays of fall give way to the small blue hours of winter. Just like the maple trees letting go of their last leaves or the squirrels busily collecting acorns outside, your houseplants know. They have to make that little bit of light count. They slow down, growing less vigorously (and often halting completely) to minimize metabolic activity and conserve energy. The season has arrived, and with it the need for winter houseplant care

Winter Houseplant Care - Pistils Nursery
Snow blankets the solarium in a rare PNW storm.

Winter Houseplant Care: The Big Picture

Plants need their beauty rest just like we do in order to reach their full potential and lead happy, healthy lives! So for successful winter houseplant care, stop fertilizing, repotting, pruning, and otherwise fussing with your houseplants. All of this is stimulation and requires energy on the plant’s part to adjust and take in resources.

Many plant parents make the grave mistake of thinking that their plants are declining for other reasons and ramp up the care regimen. Some houseplants appear to suffer no matter how much you dote on them (or in some cases, because of how much you are doting on them), losing leaves or going dull and droopy. Don’t fret too much! This slowing down isn’t just normal; it’s necessary. This natural process is called dormancy and almost every plant on Earth needs it at some point in order to live their best life. Understanding dormancy is key to winter houseplant care.

It can be difficult to put down the fertilizer in a culture that seems to be hollering “Bigger! Better! More Beautiful!” at every turn, but part of keeping houseplants successfully is having a healthy respect for natural cycles, which include dormancy and decay. Remember that it’s our human culture that strives for perfection, not nature.

Don’t project this on your plants too much, or you’ll stress them (and yourself!) out. Take this quiet time in the winter to rest and be cozy, and let your plants do the same. Just because your plants are sleepy doesn’t mean you have to twiddle your thumbs until spring. There are lots of ways to adjust care regimens and stay creative through the winter – a few of our favorites are listed below.

Winter Houseplant Care - Anthurium veitchii - Pistils Nursery
Though this Anthurium veitchii lives in snowy Vermont, it thrives year round due to proper winter houseplant care

Winter Houseplant Care Tips

  • Water more sparingly (most plants will prefer about half as much as they would in spring and summer)
  • Move plants closer to windows and/or provide supplemental lighting
  • Stop using fertilizer (heavy feeders such as spider plants and some ferns can receive very diluted fertilizer up until the darkest mid-winter months)
  • Set up pebble trays and/or mist ferns and other moisture-loving plants to make up for hot, dry air from heaters and fireplaces (but don’t overdo it – too much moisture can easily lead to rot or fungus issues in winter)
  • Check for pests often and provide supplemental humidity (many common houseplant-eating insects are especially productive in the  hot, dry conditions that heaters and fireplaces provide)
  • Force bulbs indoors (our favorites are fragrant narcissus and dramatic amaryllis)
  • Keep holly and other holiday cut greens for trimming in a cool place and mist often to maintain freshness
  • Start caladium tubers indoors
  • Keep an eye out for exciting plants that are sold seasonally in the winter: Poinsettias, Christmas cactus, and amaryllis usually appear around Christmas while Caladium, Cyclamen, and unusual heart-shaped foliage tend to turn up around Valentine’s Day.
  • Plan your year! Look at catalogs, books, online shops, Pinterest, etc. Listen to some plant podcasts. Hone your wish list. Do your research. Surface areas looking a little cluttered? Consider acquiring a shelf or looking into mounting some of your plants on cork or cedar wood to hang vertically. If you’re crafty, consider making some macramé plant hangers by hand. Make lists of the tools and products you will need in the spring. Watch for sales and stock up on tools and pottery for springtime. If you put a little energy into preparation in winter, busy springtime will be a breeze.

Wondering what to do in other times of year? Check out our fall and spring houseplant care tips to start. We’ll post additional seasonal resources as the year progresses!

What are your biggest challenges and successes when caring for your plants this time of year? Share your winter houseplant care stories with us in the comments!

3 Comments

  1. Belinda Thornburg
    March 7, 2019

    Hi… I’m wondering if I have single paned windows, if they still should be moved closer to the windows? Seems awfully cold there. B

    Reply
  2. deborah mindick
    March 7, 2019

    My plants are mostly thriving, but I have baseboard heating which really boosts the heat up a few notches and I feel like the plants are drying out more and more. I am going to repot a few of my plants that are in original store pots, is that okay?

    Reply
  3. Sharon McMonagle
    March 7, 2019

    Hello, great informative piece on houseplant care in winter.
    I am fairly new & I’ve been expanding my knowledge researching online.
    In the summer I had them all either on the front porch which is covered from the direct sun & others on the steps without cover getting direct sun. They all seemed to go good except my Portulaca’s which always are healthy & hardy but I bought them too late,
    I am an avid succulent lover & spent yhr past 4yeard slowing collecting more & them selling some at local cafes in summer, but they get to be a very expensive hobby then houseplants for the most part .
    I just planted some indoor flower seeds in a Egg cartel type container with a plastic lid & you added water to the peat pads & put the seeds in. I’ve never did anything from seed.
    This fall I weeded a part of the lawn & shaped it oval around. Our soil is all sand since I live on a barrier island , one of many up the Nee Jersey coast so I put 20 bags of top soil then a compost type soil all myself to build a area which would not flood the ares. I planted winter pants , sedum, hens & chicks & some Irish moss. I read to put spring bulbs under the pansy’s so when they die the bulbs will flowers &!take there place. This is the first garden I made by from the beginning to the end. I’m hopeing in the spring it will spread & come alive. I have statue of angel Blessed Mother & heart rocks & I put sea shells in different ares. I forgot to mention I layed lots of bags of multch.
    Anyway I’m interested in growing vegetables outside which I’m clueless on &?some seeds & bulbs
    Looking forward to your next article.
    Sincerely Sharon
    r

    Reply

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