How to Care for Houseplants in the Winter

5 Adjustments to Make for Winter

houseplants arranged on a shelf

The Spruce / Melina Hammer

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 1 - 6 hrs
  • Total Time: 12 wks
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0 to $50

Your houseplants aren't immune to life-threatening challenges during the winter, even though they live in a temperature-controlled climate. Indoor plants, whether they are year-round houseplants or plants you brought indoors to over-winter, can be affected by several winter stress factors, including temperatures that fluctuate from daytime heat to evening chill, dry air, and short days that reduce the amount of light they receive. Keep your houseplants thriving by modifying their care during the cooler months of the year.

Before Getting Started

Different plant species can vary considerably in their winter care needs, so always do a little research to learn the particular needs of your plants. The following tips offer a good general guideline, but the precise needs of an amaryllis or poinsettia, for example, will be different from a rapidly climbing pothos or a potted geranium plant that's coming indoors for the winter.

In general, try to mimic the winter conditions of the regions where the species are native. For example, plants originating in the jungle tropics, where there is little difference between conditions in winter and summer, often do not have the same dormant period as plants originating in more temperate zones. While there are some general guidelines, remember that the goal is always to mimic the plant's natural outdoor winter habitat to the degree that you can.

2:36

Click Play to Learn How to Take Care of Houseplants in the Winter

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Plant mister
  • Room humidifier
  • Watering can

Materials

  • Supplemental grow lights (if needed)

Instructions

  1. Adjust Your Watering Routine

    It might sound counterintuitive, but most indoor plants need less water during the winter. While it's true that winter air is drier, plants experience a slower rate of growth during colder months; some even go completely dormant. Therefore, plants need less water to keep hydrated, and overwatering can lead to root rot. Keep in mind that different plants have different water needs—drought-tolerant cacti and other succulents might not need watering at all, while some tropicals might still require more regular watering.

    Surface soil can dry out more quickly during the winter months, but that's not a good indicator that the plant needs water. Push your finger into the soil to determine if it is dry an inch or two below the surface—that's when it's time to bring out the watering can.

    Tip

    Do not use cold water to water your houseplants. Use water that is about room temperature to avoid shocking the plant's roots. Tap water can get very cold in some winter climates, so let the water sit for several hours before watering your plants. Gradual warming in this way also allows dissolved gases, such as chlorine, to evaporate out of the water.

    watering your houseplant

    The Spruce / Melina Hammer

  2. Alter Humidity Levels

    Low humidity levels can be the biggest hurdle that houseplants must overcome during winter. The humidity level in heated homes can drop to 10 to 20 percent in winter, and plants prefer a level closer to 50 percent. If you have a humidifier in your home, move your plants to a spot where they will enjoy its benefits. If you do not have a humidifier, raise the humidity level by other means.

    Start by clustering your plants in groups. Plants naturally release water through their leaves by transpiring, so grouping them together will put that moisture to good use. Bathrooms and kitchens are the best rooms to congregate your plants because they absorb moisture from showers and cooking activities.

    Another good option is the old trick of placing your plants on or near a tray of water. But, don't let the plants sit directly in the water. Place pebbles or stones in the tray to raise the bottom of the pots above the water level in the tray and place the pots on top of the stones. This will increase humidity levels without inviting root rot.

    Misting tends to be better at making a gardener feel good about themselves rather than benefiting the plants. You might think you are giving your plants some relief, but misting is only a temporary blast of moisture. To be effective you need to mist multiple times a day to really see any benefit because indoor temperatures evaporate moisture quickly. If you have only a couple of plants and you think you will be very conscientious about misting, give it a try. It's hard to over-mist an indoor plant. During humid summers, misting plants can lead to fungal problems, but that should not be a problem during winter.

    houseplant next to a humidifier

    The Spruce / Melina Hammer

  3. Pay Attention to Temperature

    Most plants, like people, are comfortable in daytime temperatures between 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit and nighttime temps above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. To provide that for your plants, keep them away from both cold drafts and sources of heat such as radiators, ovens, fireplaces, and electronic devices. Fluctuations in temperature can kill houseplants just as easily as prolonged periods of heat or cold. 

    houseplant in a temperate environment

    The Spruce / Melina Hammer

  4. Follow the Sun

    Not only are there fewer hours of sunlight during winter, but the rays also come in at a lower angle. You might need to relocate your houseplants to a brighter spot or even add supplemental light. A good spot is a south- or west-facing window that remains sunny all day. However, don't move plants too close to a frosty window because they might get a draft.

    Rotate the pots about a 1/4 turn whenever you water your plants. This ensures that all sides of the plant receive some sun and grow evenly, rather than some branches stretching to reach the light.

    Layers of dust on plant leaves can also reduce the amount of light they receive. Wiping down leaves with a damp cloth will remove this dust and allow the plants better access to light during the winter.

    houseplants in a sunny spot

    The Spruce / Melina Hammer

    Tip

    In locations where winter sun is nearly absent in winter and plants must get most of their light from supplemental lighting, they will need to be exposed to the grow lights for longer periods. If a plant requires six hours of direct sunlight, it may need as much as 12 or 14 hours of supplemental light to give it an equal amount of energy. Grow lights are considerably less intense than direct sunlight, so plants need longer exposure to receive adequate energy.

  5. Put Your Houseplants on a Diet

    Most houseplants don't need any fertilizer in winter because they are not growing as actively. Feeding them now will just upset their natural cycle, so stop feeding until early spring. When you start to see signs of new growth or the existing leaves appear to be greening up, resume fertilizing to give them a boost for the growing season.

    Some tropical plants, especially vining climbers or trailers, grow quite actively all winter long, and these may still require some feeding, though usually at reduced rates.

    houseplants by a windowsill

    The Spruce / Melina Hammer

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Winter Care for Houseplants. University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension.