At this time of year, our houseplants are especially precious. Our homes are sealed tight against the cold of the outdoors. Only our plants breathe life into the stale air.
It’s also this time of year that many of them are most delicate. They’re probably not growing quick as they would in spring or summer, so it can be easy to forget to check on them. It might also seem that since they’re safe and warm inside, they should be treated like they’re not experiencing seasons at all. That’s flat-out wrong. Plants need a different kind of care in wintertime.
Pumping the central heat all winter makes for unnaturally dry air that’s a strain on most plants. Your cacti and succulents might be okay with it, but keep a close eye on everything else—especially if you’ve got anything that hails from the rainforest or jungle. For these guys, you’ll need to either park them near a humidifier or make a habit of misting them with a spray bottle. Bathrooms are usually a great home for plants that crave humidity. You’ll want to consider your individual bathroom before you move any plants in there, though. Since they’re usually one of the smallest rooms in the house, bathrooms might be extra cold, extra dry, or fluctuate dramatically between both when the heat kicks on and off. If that’s the case, you might want to stick to the misting and keep your plants in a more consistently warm room.
Pinpoint the drafts in your house and move your plants out of these danger zones. This doesn’t just apply to the chill creeping in from outside—keep your plants away from blasting heat vents, too. As for the cold drafts, only the most tightly sealed window is a good place for a plant to overwinter. If your windows are breezy, move your plants to a new spot and find them a different source of light. You may need to purchase artificial plant lights to get the job done. Don’t overdo it though—plants don’t need summertime sunlight hours during winter, and some plants don’t like direct light at all. Research your plants’ preferences before you get them settled into a permanent lighting situation.
Just because your indoor plants are safe from the cold doesn’t mean that they don’t need their wintertime rest—even the biggest cacti in the hottest deserts have a dormant season. Let your plants take their winter sabbatical by ceasing efforts to encourage growth. Don’t feed and fertilize plants during winter, and reduce your regular watering schedule dramatically. Most plants will do well if they are watered only when the top inch or two of soil is completely dry. They need a lot less when they’re not growing, and too much water can cause root rot or other disease. To be extra kind to your plants, use room temperature water so you don’t shock their roots with the frigid stuff that first comes out of the tap. By changing the way you feed and water your plants, you let them experience a winter of sorts. This helps them to complete their natural cycles so that in springtime they’ll grow faster than ever or possibly even flower.
Don’t repot during winter unless it’s urgent. Since your plants aren’t growing, it’ll be a lot tougher for them to take root in new soil. You should only repot if the plant is at risk in its current home due to disease, pests, or some other issue with the soil.
When spring arrives and the danger of frost has gone, move them back to the windows.They’ll stretch out in the sunlight and grow again. Until then, nestle them among your pencils, in your bookshelf, on your kitchen table—wherever they need to be to stay warm and get a taste of indirect light. They might not look as photogenic spread helter-skelter, but let their green splendor all throughout the house be a constant reminder of the life all around you. Such is the nature of the wintertime garden.