Tips on Preparing and Caring for Houseplants in the Winter

houseplants arranged on a shelf

The Spruce / Melina Hammer

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 inside to over-winter, can be affected by factors such as temperatures that fluctuate from daytime heat to evening chill, dry air, short days, and limited light. Keep your houseplants thriving by modifying their care during the chillier months of the year.

Adjust Your Watering Routine

It may sound counterintuitive, but 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 the cold weather. Some even go completely dormant. Therefore, less water is needed to keep them hydrated, and overdoing it 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. 

The soil on the surface will dry quickly during winter months, but that's not a good indicator that the plant needs water. Poke your finger into the soil and check to see if it is dry an inch or two below the surface—that's when it's time to pull out the watering can.

Tip

Use water that is about the same temperature as the air to avoid shocking the plant's roots.

watering your houseplant

Alter Humidity Levels

Low humidity levels may 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, you're going to need to 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. If you have room in the bathroom or kitchen, these are the best rooms to congregate your plants because they accumulate the most moisture from showers and boiling water.

Another good option is the old trick of placing your plants on or near a tray of water. Just don't let the plants sit in the water. Raise the bottom of the pots above the water level by placing stones in the water (higher than the water level) and sitting the pots on the stones.

Misting tends to be better at making the gardener feel good than the plant. You may think you are giving your plants some relief, but it's only a temporary blast of moisture. You'd need to mist multiple times a day to really see any benefit because the heat will evaporate the 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

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

Follow the Sun

Not only are there fewer hours of sunlight during winter, but the rays also come in at a lower angle. You may need to relocate your houseplants to a brighter spot or even add supplemental light. A good spot would be a south- or west-facing window that remains sunny all day. Just don't move them so close to a frosty window that they are getting a draft.

Tip

Rotate the pots when you water the plants. This ensures that all sides of the plant get some sun and grow evenly, rather than some branches stretching to reach the light.

houseplants in a sunny spot

Put Your Houseplants on a Diet

Because your plants are barely growing, they don't need any fertilizer. Feeding them now will just upset their natural cycle, so hold off until early spring. When you start to see signs of new growth or the green of the existing leaves appears to perk up, resume fertilizing to give them a boost for the growing season.

Give your houseplants the essentials to sustain them through winter, but don't fuss over them or kill them with kindness. Keep an eye out for early signs of problems, which can still include insect pests, even in winter. However, wait until the growing season resumes, before you re-pot them or start taking cuttings. Consider winter an offseason for your houseplants and let them rest.

houseplants by a windowsill
Article Sources
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  1. Winter Care for Houseplants. University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Website