Winter House Plant Care
Updated: Feb 4, 2022
Winter can be a difficult time for our house plants as the sunlight they receive is diminished in quantity and intensity. As the temperature drops outside we turn on our furnaces and radiators, which force drier air throughout our homes and businesses, when many house plants prefer slightly humid environments. Unfortunately, many of us will suffer from pest and disease complications. There is no reason to just throw in the towel and throw out your houseplants, with just a few minor adjustments of your own and our helpful tips your plants can be healthy and happy.
A few basic winter tips are:
❄︎ Water only when necessary.
❄︎ Move plants to sunnier locations.
❄︎ Cleaning windows and washing dust off plant leaves will allow plants to absorb more light.
❄︎ Use artificial light, such as a grow lamp.
❄︎ Move plants away from radiators, heat vents/ducts, and make sure they are not in contact with cold window panes.
The most common cause of house plant death is overwatering, especially during the winter months. Don't fret, you can become a master waterer with practice. Majority of house plants are not actively growing during the winter, thus they will need less water. The easiest way to determine if a plant needs to be watered is to use the best water meter you have, your finger. Stick your finger one inch or more into the soil to determine if the soil is dry. If the soil is dry then give your plant friend a drink, it is thirsty. Remember that you won't have to water as frequently during colder weather. Plants are not actively growing, many are in a dormant phase that requires minimal water. This is particularly true when it comes to cacti. Some species of cacti may only need to be watered once a month. Do some research on your individual plants to find out exactly how much water they need during the winter. Understanding when your plants need water is very important, but if you also create a more humid environment your plants can experience their best winter.
Our homes become become quite dry during the winter when furnaces are running and warm air is blowing through heating vents and radiators. If your skin becomes drier during the winter imagine how your calathea sitting next to a heat vent and window must feel. Creating a more humid environment will help your plants to stay healthy and more hydrated without actually watering them. If you have humidity loving plants, such as epiphytes (orchids, air plants, and ferns), calatheas, African violets, or spathiphyllums, then you definitely should look to create a more humid environment for healthier and happier plants. This does not mean that you need to purchase or build an expensive greenhouse. (Kudos to you if you do!) Here are a few tips to help you add more humidity.
❄︎ Use a humidifier. Humidifiers come in all styles and sizes, choose one that is right for your area.
❄︎ Group plants together. Grouping plants helps to increase the level of humidity around them, plus it also looks good. Grouping plants that need similar care can make it even easier to care for them.
❄︎ Add a pebble tray. Place a tray with pebbles and water under a plant. Make sure that the plant is not sitting in water. Fill the tray with enough water that the pebbles are wet, but the base of the plant's pot is not in the water. Replenish the water every few days.
❄︎ Make a mini greenhouse. If you have extremely fussy plants that demand high humidity you may want to look into purchasing or making a small greenhouse for them. Something as simple as a clean 2-liter bottle cut in half and placed over a plant will work.
❄︎ Give them a shower. Using the spray nozzle on your kitchen faucet or shower head hose off your plants. Only do this if your plants need to be watered and only sparingly. You do not want to drown them.
Fertilizing and Repotting
Plants do not require fertilization when they are not actively growing. Stop fertilizing in early fall when the weather begins to change and don't start again until spring when the weather warms. Same thing for repotting. Unless a pot breaks there isn't a need to repot during a plant's dormant phase. Repotting is stressful on plants. When plants are repotted it triggers them to start growing. This may sound ideal, but in reality winter is not a good time for the majority of house plants to grow. Less light due to the angle of the sun and colder temperatures create quite the challenge for a plant. If you can wait till spring, please do. Your plants will thank you.
It is common for house plants to be afflicted with insects every once in a while, and when we turn our heat on many insects will hatch and crawl out of the soil to enjoy our warm homes. Prevention is the first step to keeping unwanted creatures off your plants and out of your home. Insecticides should only be used as a corrective, not a preventive measure. Check your plants daily for any insect damage. If you suspect insects are on your plant, immediately remove and isolate the plant from any other plants you may have in the nearby vicinity. Provide plenty of room for air circulation between plants and if you do have an infested and damaged plant, try not to be too compassionate. Your best bet is most likely to get rid of the infested plant (sorry). Always use clean pots, soil, tools, watering cans, etc.. when working with plants.
Oh no, I have an insect problem!
You have done your best to prevent insects from making a home of your plant, but they still arrived. Once you have isolated the plant, if possible using a kitchen or bath spray nozzle lightly spray with warm water to remove insects. If you cannot remove all insects by spraying or if it is not possible, wash/wipe the plant with a dampened (tepid or warm water) soft cloth. Insecticidal soap or a mild washing detergent may also be used. Clean all leaf surfaces, where leaves and stems connect, and the bases of stems and crowns. If the insects are large enough for you to remove them with tweezers, do so. Any portion of the plant that is severely infested you should trim and dispose of immediately. Make sure you wash your hands and disinfect any tools you used in extracting the insects before handling another plant. If an insecticide is necessary it is best to apply in a well-ventilated area, such as a garage or basement or outside if possible. Read and follow all instructions on the label, do not think that you know how to better apply the product than the company that makes it. Common pesticides used to control house plant pests are malathion, pyrethrins, and insecticidal soap. The most common insects found on houseplants are aphids, mealybugs, scale, spider mites, and fungus gnats. A great article on identifying houseplant pests is "How to Identify Common Houseplant Pests". The photos are great reference tools. Another helpful article is "Common Houseplant Insects & Related Pests" from the University of Clemson cooperative extension. This article contains photos to help identify your insect pest. We are always more than happy to help you with your pest problem.
Luckily for you, you do not have a pest problem. Unfortunately for you, you have a disease or fungal problem. You have noticed that your once beautiful Peace Lily (spathiphyllum) has yellow and brown spots on its leaves. The leaf spots can be an indication of a bacterial or fungal leaf spot disease. Another common problem among houseplants is powdery mildew. Remove all affected leaves, move the plant where it will receive good air circulation away from neighboring plants in a less humid area, and avoid wetting the foliage. Once the disease is identified you may use a fungicide, making sure to follow all the directions on the chemical's label. One of the most important steps in stopping the spread of disease amongst your plants is to always wash your hands, pruners, scissors, or any tool that comes into contact with a sick plant before being used on another plant. For more information on diseases and fungal problems, including viral leaf curling and root rot diseases read "Houseplant Diseases & Disorders". The article and accompanying table is a great tool to use in helping to diagnose a sick plant. We are always more than happy to help you with your disease problem.
Hopefully, this post has helped to answer any questions you may have on house plant care during the winter. We are always more than happy to help with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your house plants. Feel free to call or visit the store with any house plant-related questions. If you don't have a house plant, but are interested in adding a green family member to your household, please stop by the store to see what plants are available. May your plants and home remain pest and disease free this winter.
Have a warm and plant-filled winter!