Winter Houseplant Care Tips

By Amber Kong

It’s that time of the year again, on Sunday, November 1, Daylight Saving Time ends and we start to re-adjust to those days with 4pm sunset. Winter is coming. If you live in Canada (GTA in our case) I’m sure you’re used to the cold, very dark winter months by this point. I swear we only got to have 3 sunny days in the past two and half weeks! Soon enough the snow will be falling and the pavement frozen, we don’t look forward to that, our plants don’t look forward to that either – they get affected by the season change, they will grow slower, look less lively comparing to spring/summer, but don’t panic, TPH has gathered 11 tips so we can all manage to get our plants through winter happy and healthy, and hopefully thriving.

Move plants closer to the light source

Light is plant food. During winter, the sun slips lower in the sky and light levels near the window drop drastically, you may need to relocate your house plants to a brighter spot. This is the time to group some of your high light plants together and place them as close to your brightest window as possible.

Rotate the pots

It’s also helpful to rotate the plants every couple of weeks, at a 90 degree angle each time. This is a good way to ensure all sides of the plants can get some sun so they grow evenly, rather than stretching to one side to reach the light.

Clean your windows and wipe down the foliage

When the dust is forming a film on our windows, less light will be able to go through. Clean window will allow maximum light transmission. Same thing, wash off the dust on the plants will help the leaves make maximum use of whatever light is available as the dust on those leaves will inhibit their ability to absorb sun rays– simply take a microfiber cloth and wet it with water, use that to wipe the foliage.

Consider grow light

When you have done all of above and there is still not sufficient light for your plant babies, it’s time to consider supplemental light. One of the most inexpensive ways is to switch out some household bulbs. If you have extra lamps hanging around the house, try installing LED grow bulbs and place them 4-12 inches away from plants. These bulbs are easily accessible at Canadian Tire, Home Depot or Amazon. When the natural light is not enough anymore, these small bulbs make a world of difference.

Temperature—they like it warm, without drastic fluctuation

Most houseplants are tropical, and they prefer warmer temperature, it’s also important that we ensure our room temperature does not fluctuate too much, too often. To provide a warm environment, remember to keep the plants away from drafty windows and sources of heat like ovens, radiators or electronic heaters. It is going to make a world of difference though if you can provide plants with a heat pad, which is available online or in store.

Adjust the watering

The watering schedule during winter will change drastically. Don’t go crazy with your watering can. The most common problem houseplants suffer from in the winter is overwatering. Remember the “rule of knuckle” from Plant care 101? Now it’s time to utilize – stick your index finger into the soil, when your second knuckle is in the dirt and it feels dry, it’s time to water. The amount of water that goes into the pot is significantly less as well, it is actually good time to try bottom watering – just stick your plant on a tray filled with water for about 15 to 20 minutes and then drain the excess water, it’s a good way to avoid root rot and fungus gnats. Also, use room temperature water to water your plants! You don’t want shock those delicate roots with ice cold water.

Increase humidity

Heating a living place sucks the humidity right out of the air, which could be detrimental to the plants. The humidity level ties back to watering schedule as well, the drier the air, the faster the soil will dry out. Humidifier has become the Holy Grail of houseplant community, yes, run that humidifier, especially in the winter, your plants will for sure thank you. Or if you’re feeling extra crafty, you can try make a mini green house for all the moisture loving plants, search “Ikea glass cabinet greenhouse” on Youtube, tons of videos will be teaching you how to make your own indoor greenhouse.

Inspect plants more often for pests

The dry air is spider mites heaven, and winter is prime breeding time for other houseplant pests too. The best way to control pests is to inspect the plants regularly, the sooner you notice those nasty pests, the easier they are to control. An organic insecticidal soap is the best for washing the foliage and killing the bugs, and some organic neem oil is a good investment as it not only kills the bugs, but also helps to keep them from coming back.

Avoid repotting if possible

As much as possible, AVOID repotting houseplants during winter. In the colder months, plants’ pace of growth has slowed, therefore they have a hindered ability to recover quickly from the shock of being transplanted. The safest practice is to wait until March to do your repotting. But when the situations suggest it’s necessary to repot, for example, when the potting soil is very degraded or the root system has completely invaded the soil, go ahead and repot, otherwise, wait.

Avoid trimming/taking cuttings for propagation

I know, I know, we like to propagate. But taking cuttings when it’s colder outside can actually send the plant further into a shock, and in some cases, it can kill the plant. Plus propagations  typically don’t do as well as in the growing seasons, so let’s all try our best to not take any cuttings off the lovely plants during this winter season.

Cut down the fertilizer

During the winter months, lots of the houseplants will stop growing and in rest mode in order to save energy for the growing season of spring and summer. They also don’t need much added nutrients at this time, so the best practice is to not fertilize the plants to avoid over-fertilizing – this is no joke, over-fertilizing can cause foliage burn, root burn and eventually kill the plant. However, if you notice active signs of new growth (i.e. pothos, peperomias, philodendrons), it is ok to fertilize with an extremely diluted amount (1/4 strength compared to spring/summer to be safe), so the plants don’t use up all their energy.

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Taking care of houseplants in winter can be a huge struggle, and the colder months might not be very exciting for plant parents who like to see new growth, but everything we do during these dark months now will ensure our plants have a better growth in spring and summer, and when the growing season comes back around, every little effort we put in now will make everything that much more rewarding. Hopefully after reading the 11 tips, you’ll feel more comfortable with taking care of your plants during winter.