Photo courtesy Kelshay Toomer.
Across the southeast, temperatures have begun to drop below freezing. Winter is no longer just coming. It is officially here. As there is an increased interest in plants, returning to nature and outdoor activities, in general, there’s a good chance you or someone you know has multiple houseplants. If this is your first time having plants in the winter, and that seems to be a daunting task, this guide is for you. Just like humans have to adapt and change their lifestyles for the colder months, plants need different care in the winter. Here are five simple steps to prep your plants for the winter cold:
1. Water Less In the winter, plants either go completely dormant or a little bit dormant. Regardless, they grow less quickly. For many houseplants, a spring or summertime watering schedule probably looks like having a watering day every five to seven days, if not more frequently. In the winter, you can actually cause damage to plants—like root rot, which will kill a plant—by watering too frequently. Instead of five to seven days, consider watering your plants every seven to 10 days. As always, the most important thing to do is listen to your plant. Is the soil dry to the touch? Are its leaves drooping? If so, it might behoove you to water more frequently. In general, make sure the top two or three inches of soil are dry before watering. Additionally, as the plants are dormant, you likely will not need to fertilize your plants until the spring, when they begin to grow again.
2. If You’re Cold, They’re Cold Many houseplants are native to tropical areas. That means their ideal environment is one that is hot, bright and damp. Our cold, sometimes snowy, winters can seriously harm such plants, if the proper care is not taken. Even plants that are not tropical prefer warmer temperatures. This all means your plants will likely struggle, if left outside during the winter. In general, most plants need to stay in an environment that is above or around 70 degrees in the daytime and 65 degrees at night. So bring your plants indoors and place them in a warm location with natural light, like near a south-facing window.
3. Be Mindful of Light In the summertime, it’s pretty easy to guarantee your plants will be able to sunbathe, as you can take them outside for hours, days or weeks on end. However, with winter cold, that becomes more difficult. Leaving your plants outside could cause them to freeze to death. Move your plants indoors near a south or west facing window, if possible, as those directions get the most sunlight all day. Be sure your plants aren’t so close to the window they get a draft when it’s particularly cold out. Also, watch out for burning your plants. Similarly to how it is for humans, too much sun can be detrimental for plants.
Lastly, make sure you clean your plants’ leaves at least every week to make sure they’re able to properly photosynthesize. Dust and dirt can collect on plants’ surfaces, thus making it difficult for them to be able to collect light. Cleaning your plants is pretty simple. For plants with larger leaves (like monsteras, fiddle leaf figs, or larger pothos), I wet a microfiber or paper towel with warm water and rub the plant down. While tedious, the same thing can be done for smaller plants, too. If you’d like to clean smaller plants, or plants with a lot of leaves, more quickly, simply hold the plant up in a shower and run warm, but not hot, water on the leaves. Be sure, in either case, not to get too much water in the soil, as that can lead to root rot.
4. Humidity Is Good Heaters, while great for making sure we stay warm, dry out the air (which is, in part, why your skin dries out in the winter). Houseplants need moisture to keep them from drying out; to keep their leaves from turning yellow; browning or falling off, and, in some cases, to keep the plants from dying. You can provide additional humidity for your plants in a few different ways. Some plants like to be sprayed once, twice or three times a day with a mister; others like humidity trays; and an old fashion diffuser or humidifier is also beneficial. The easiest way, in my opinion, to raise the humidity level for your plants is by grouping several plants together in the same, well-lit room or area.
5. Pet Proof your Plant Area Many pets, specifically cats and dogs, but likely birds, as well, enjoy playing with plants. Some animals will even eat the plants’ leaves, tangle themselves in the plants’ vines or, otherwise, damage the plant. While this is dangerous, and potentially deadly, for the plants, it can also potentially harm pets, as some plants are toxic to animals. To make sure both your plants and pets are safe and happy, keep plants up high away from pets. This advice is useful if you have babies and small children, who might also want to play with the plants, as well.