When temperatures plummet and daylight hours dwindle, we all move a little slower, crave a bit more coziness and search for those extra comforts to help get us through to spring.
Did you know that the same is true for our houseplants?
Most plant life experience a dormancy period during the winter months, shedding their leaves, slowing their growth – and causing general alarm to their plant parents who ponder what they can do to help!
Something akin to hibernation in the animal kingdom, dormancy occurs as a plant switches from focusing on growth to preserving energy. Along with chillier temperatures, winter also means less light, both of which cause plants to pause their growing cycle.
So, many plants from cooler climates instinctively huddle in, preserve their energy, and wait out the harshness of winter before they “spring” back to life!
Of course, indoor plants don’t need to endure the cold, but they still deal with fewer sunlight hours.
Plants don’t have eyes, but because most photosynthesize their food with the help of the sun, they can detect when those light rays diminish in both hours and intensity. So, when the sun starts rising later and setting earlier, many indoor plants will go dormant, too.
Though this is a natural process that helps plants protect themselves, the problem is, your beloved greenery can end up looking more haggard in your home than you’d like or are used to.
Tips for healthy, happy houseplants through winter
Despite these slow-growth conditions, there are some actions you can take that will help your greenery survive – and thrive – through the winter season while keeping them looking lush until spring.
Place plants in prime locations
Chase the sun: To maximize sunlight exposure, move your plants around to the brightest areas in your home throughout the day. If you aren’t home all day, or you live in a particularly dark home, consider investing in some LED grow lights.
Avoid cold (and heat!): Much like we humans, houseplants generally like temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees F. So, be sure to move plants away from draughty spots, and make sure their limbs aren’t touching cold glass on your windows. Likewise, plants can also get too hot or dried out if they’re too close to heaters, so keep this in mind as you’re looking for the ideal spot to house your houseplants.
Remember to bring outdoor plants inside when temperatures drop below 50 to 55 degrees F.
Preen, polish and protect
Remove clutter: Cut back and remove any dead foliage so your plant looks clean and can focus on preserving its energy for growing its living leaves.
Clean leaves: Using a damp microfiber cloth (or simply damp paper towels!), gently wipe away dust buildup (once every two weeks to once a month) on each leaf. Start from the top and work your way down the plant. Not only will this help it to absorb sunlight better but it will also deter bugs and bacteria from finding a home on your houseplant. You can also mix in a bit of mild dish soap into your water, but be sure no soap residue is left on the leaves – in other words, you may need to wipe them down twice!
Protect from pests: If you suspect pests, make sure to isolate the plant to prevent those bugs from spreading to other houseplants. Once isolated, clean the leaves with a vinegar/water solution. Add a few droplets of white vinegar to 1 liter of lukewarm water, then gently wipe down each leaf with a microfiber cloth. Apply neem oil to the leaves once per week, or, you can even try wiping down the leaves with the inside of a banana peel! Some swear bananas are a great natural pest deterrent – plus the peels will help to shine up and polish your plant’s leaves.
Pause fertilizer applications
Save it for spring: Because houseplants are likely in a dormant state during winter, they can’t properly utilize any fertilizer you give to them (imagine trying to feed a steak to a sleeping person!), so it’s best to wait until spring or summer, i.e., their growing season for regular fertilizer applications.
Avoid repotting: Repotting should also be avoided during dormancy as it can stress out your plants in an already weakened state. What you can do in the meantime, while you wait for spring, is to pick out their next plant pot home that you will repot them in.
Consider replacing or adding in more fresh soil to your houseplants before winter to give them a more ideal “bed” to sleep in for their dormant season!
Refine the environment
Closely monitor their water intake: It’s generally a good idea to lower your houseplant’s watering frequency during winter as they’re just not using it all as quickly as they are during warmer, brighter months. A good rule of thumb is to water once per week, then adjust the schedule from there. Before you add more water, dip your finger into the soil up to your first knuckle. If the soil is damp, you don’t need to water, and if it’s dry, give your little green darling a drink!
Add water – to the air!: Humidity is not only good for your houseplants, but it’s also great for you too! Especially in dryer climates, adding moisture to the air can help your plant stay at a consistent temperature, and help them soak up extra water on those cold, dry days. Consider investing in a humidifier, or at the very least, a small spray bottle. You can spritz your houseplants once per week (or more for tropical varieties) to give them a little extra water.