Introduction: How to Survive Your First Winter With Houseplants
If there's one thing I'm good at, it's taking care of plants. This is a fairly recent hobby for me - five years ago I could kill a cactus in no time! Now I own 70 plants, the majority of which are surviving and thriving.
In this instructable, I want to share some of the issues you might run into during your first winter caring for indoor plants. As it turns out, things can go sideways quickly if you don't pay attention. I learned many valuable plant parent lessons my first winter. 😭 😂
Be sure to ask any questions you may have in the comments!
Step 1: Let’s Talk About Why Winter Matters INDOORS
You may be thinking, psh, they’re not outside so we’ll be fine! Think again. 😉
Here’s a few reasons winter is always a big deal to plants:
- Shorter days means less photosynthesis
- If you live in North America like me, the plants on the west side of your house are going to see much less sunlight during winter.
- Lower indoor humidity
- Many indoor heat sources strip the air of humidity. You may notice you have drier, crispier looking plants in winter.
- Lack of growth due to lower temperatures
- Unless you keep your house very warm (75-80 F) you’re going to notice stunted growth due to the lower temperatures. Plants in windows especially! (Not all plants, of course, some like jade and Christmas cacti can love the cooler temps)
So what can you do to fight back against winter’s chilly tendrils? Read on and I’ll share a few tips!
Step 2: Water Less Often
Chances are your plants aren't using the water you’re giving them as quickly as they do when it’s warm and sunny. This can lead to the soil staying wet longer, which can lead to root rot and other health problems.
Be very mindful of overwatering in winter. Water plants according to their weight instead of on a schedule - they’ll be happier to get it ONLY when it’s needed.
Curious about how to water plants by weight? Check out my full instructable How and When to Water Your Houseplants.
Step 3: Follow the Sun and Add Grow Lights If Needed
Don’t be afraid to move your plants from season to season to take advantage of the sun!
In my case, this means moving many of my plants to the east side of my house to take advantage of the morning light.
The windows to the west hold mostly jades and those that need a little less light. East windows hold cacti and sunshine craving succulents.
Still having problems with lack of light? Invest in a grow light!
Grow lights aren't just for tomatoes, peppers and orchids these days. Check out your local hardware store or garden center. If that fails, search online and read reviews.
You’re sure to find something to fit your space restrictions as grow lights come in a variety of styles: fluorescent, hanging, free standing, adjustable neck, etc.
Step 4: Increase Your Humidity
Looking for an in depth guide to this? Check out How to Increase Humidity for Houseplants!
There are a few things you can do to increase humidity:
- Use a humidifier
- Make pebble and water trays to place under plants
- Group houseplants together
- Mist your houseplants with water
- Let them hang out in the bathroom when you shower
If you choose the humidifier route, be sure not to overdo it! If you’re in an especially small space (800 square feet or less) - you may want to buy a humidity checker to make sure you’re not getting into mold causing humidity levels.
Here's what the EPA says, for reference:
"Indoor relative humidity (RH) should be kept below 60 percent -- ideally between 30 percent and 50 percent, if possible."
Step 5: Stop Re-potting and Fertilizing
Because most plants don’t thrive in less sun and colder temperatures, their growth can stop or slow to the extent that they almost go dormant.
Because of this, it’s fine to hold off re-potting a plant during winter.
You can also quit your typical fertilizer routine - too much fertilizer can stress a plant if they’re not actively growing and processing it.
Step 6: Beware Hot and Cold Air Drafts
This is especially tricky since all my vents are right below the windows in my house 😓
Some plants are more finicky than others when it comes to temperature and getting blown by hot or cold air. Too much air circulation (aka constantly running the heat) lowers the humidity and can anger plants like calatheas, prayer plants, crotons, etc.
Air from outside where I am is even worse! The humidity outside in winter is typically 1-15% here, and the outside temps tend to be in the negatives in the morning. Leaving a window open could mean a death sentence for plants nearby, so be careful. 🥶
Step 7: Do Some Plant Maintenance
While these are things I try to do year-round, they're especially important if you have plants that are struggling in winter. A little bit of TLC can help a sad plant perk back up.
Do Some Houseplant Pruning
Have a look at each plant and trim off leaves that have yellowed or browned - these will typically be the oldest leaves. Trimming these off allows the healthier parts of the plant to take advantage of extra water, nutrients, and sometimes even sunlight! You can also trim back vined plants to encourage bushier growth.
Give Your Plants a Bath
This probably sounds odd, but it's actually something they need! Plants kept inside suffer from a buildup of dust, just like everything else in your home. The more dust and dirt on the leaves of a plant, the less sunlight it can access.
There are a couple ways to go about this:
- Throw some plants in your shower and hose them down with room temperature water. I use a gentle spray and really focus on the leaves. This can even double as your watering for the week if you time it right!
- Mist the leaves and wipe them off with a clean cloth. You'll be surprised at how much stuff collects on the leaves.
Step 8: Come to Terms That You Might Lose Some Houseplanrs
I know this is last thing anyone wants to hear, but winter is the ultimate test of how a plant will fare in your climate.
Some plants might not work where you are and that’s okay! I've killed crotons, peperomias, calatheas, and succulents the most. I've now given up on them and instead focus on the plants that do well.
You might instead find you LOVE only orchids and create a home environment where they thrive. But because I have multiple animals and I work at home, I try to make plant ownership as easy as I can.
P.S. My favorite houseplants are Hoyas, snake plants (Sansevieria), Philodendrons (both vined and not), and jades (Crassula) - they grow well for me, they're fairly low maintenance, and I love the large variety of leaf shapes, patterns and colors that they all offer. Highly recommended for other folks in USDA Zone 4a
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