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: 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 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.
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!