Words by Alice Whiting
It can be a bit bleak outside at this time of year, so many of us turn to our indoor plants for that green connection we may be missing from the plants in our gardens and hedgerows. As well as improving our indoor air quality, our house plants brighten our space and bring little moments of joy as they unfurl new leaves. But winter can be a time of extreme conditions for our houseplants, so here are a few important things to know about caring for them over the winter months.
During winter the sun is lower in the sky and houseplants will receive less natural light, meaning they grow more slowly or even go completely dormant. This is a time of rest for them before they start the growing season again in spring, but they may still need a bit of a helping hand to get as much light as possible to keep them alive and healthy.
You can move your plants closer to windows that get most light, which will help your plants get the light they need over the winter. It’s also a good idea to rotate them around regularly so that leaves and stems grow evenly towards available light. Cleaning a plant’s leaves can also be really helpful; dust and dirt can build up on them, blocking sunlight and inhibiting the plant’s ability to photosynthesise. Use a damp cloth to gently remove dust or give plants a lukewarm shower for a few minutes to remove residue and dirt, remembering to let the water drain out of the bottom of the pot so they don’t sit in water.
Water and feed
Houseplants will generally need a lot less water over the winter months, and overwatering is the most common problem during this cold season. Although each plant needs a different amount of water depending on their natural climate (succulents need much less than tropical plants, for example) in general, letting soil dry out between watering will stop plants sitting in water and developing root rot. When watering, it’s best to use room temperature water, as too cold or too hot could shock your plants. Houseplants will still need to be watered during winter, but it’s best to be a bit on the rationed side. If unsure, stick your fingers an inch or so into the soil - if it’s dry, it probably needs some water.
Stop feeding houseplants altogether over winter months, as encouraging new growth stops the plants having the rest that they need. Wait until spring to resume feeding – or when you start to see new growth.
As many common houseplants would naturally live in tropical climates, decreased humidity over the winter months can be an issue, with brown leaf tips indicating potential low humidity levels. You can group house plants together to increase the humidity around them, or invest in a humidifier to keep them really happy. If you can, put tropical plants in the bathroom, as there are increased humidity levels.
Most houseplants don’t like large fluctuations of temperature, so in the winter this can be a bit tricky with indoor heating and cold nights. Try to keep your plants at a consistent temperature if possible, away from direct sources of heat such as radiators and fireplaces, and away from cold draughts.
Sap-sucking pests such as aphids, mealybugs and scale can be a problem during winter, especially in dry, hot conditions and if plants sit around in water, as decaying roots can attract pests to your houseplants. Spotting issues early and dealing with them is helpful, but also keeping plants healthy will help prevent issues. Inspect plants regularly, remove any affected leaves and separate infected plants from others to stop the issue spreading. If caught early enough, pests can be removed, and plants can make a full recovery.
Houseplant care over winter can be easy, if we remember to follow a few simple principles. Soon we can begin repotting houseplants that need it (around mid-Feb time) just before spring, to give them room to grow and more nutrients to get them through the new growing season.