Winter Houseplant Care Advice

Most plants grow very slowly during the winter months some even become dormant. They have very different care requirements when days are short and the weather is cold

LESS is the word to remember. Since there is less growth, less light, and less humidity, plants need less water and less plant food.

Light: During the winter, the sun is lower in the sky and light coming through the windows can be up to 50% less than the light during spring and summer months. Plants near a northern or eastern facing window may need to be moved to a southern or western facing window. If possible, move all of your plants closer to windows. Keep plant leaves dust free so they can absorb as much light as possible, and, if necessary, add fluorescent bulbs to provide an additional light source.

Water: Over-watering is the main reason houseplants die during the winter. When not actively growing, houseplants need to practically dry out before being watered. Checking for moisture on the surface of the plant isn’t enough. You need to find out how wet the soil is near the roots. One way to do this by lifting the plant right after you’ve watered and feeling how heavy it is. When the soil is dry, the pot will be much lighter. I like to check the soil by getting my fingers dirty and sticking them into the soil as far as possible. Sometimes I use a long pencil to carefully dig a hole deep into the soil, being careful to avoid damaging the roots. If it comes out with wet soil stuck to it, I know the plant doesn’t need water. It’s like using a toothpick to test if a cake is done. Ferns are the exception; they need to stay moist even in winter.

fertilizerPlants need fertilizer only when they are actively growing. Slow growing plants in low light require very little plant food. Too much fertilizer is worse than not enough. Most plants prefer a water soluble plant food at 1/2 the recommended strength. Plants that are in bloom or dormant should not be fertilized. Houseplant food contains nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). A fertilizer containing these elements in equal proportion is considered a balanced plant food. Nitrogen helps in photosynthesis and encourages the growth of leaves and stems. Potassium and phosphorus also help in photosynthesis and aid in root and flower development. Most fertilizers have trace elements of other minerals that are lacking in the soil but are necessary for good plant growth. Fertilizers have a high salt content. If a plant is not producing new leaves and doesn’t absorb the fertilizer, salts build up in the soil. These salts can burn the roots, discolor the leaves, and cause new growth to be small.: Houseplants need plant food only when they are producing new leaves. When you feed plants that aren’t growing, the fertilizerPlants need fertilizer only when they are actively growing. Slow growing plants in low light require very little plant food. Too much fertilizer is worse than not enough. Most plants prefer a water soluble plant food at 1/2 the recommended strength. Plants that are in bloom or dormant should not be fertilized. Houseplant food contains nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). A fertilizer containing these elements in equal proportion is considered a balanced plant food. Nitrogen helps in photosynthesis and encourages the growth of leaves and stems. Potassium and phosphorus also help in photosynthesis and aid in root and flower development. Most fertilizers have trace elements of other minerals that are lacking in the soil but are necessary for good plant growth. Fertilizers have a high salt content. If a plant is not producing new leaves and doesn’t absorb the fertilizer, salts build up in the soil. These salts can burn the roots, discolor the leaves, and cause new growth to be small. is not absorbed. As the salts in the plant food build up in the soil, they cause ugly brown tips on your plants.

Humidity: Due to the heat used during the winter, relative humidity in our homes and offices is reduced to only 10-15%.  Houseplants prefer 40-50% relative humidity. When the humidity is too low, plants develop brown leaf tips and often get infested with a plant pest called spider mitesSpider Mites, members of the Acari family, are small insects about 1mm in size. The most common indoor plant mite is the red spider mite (also called the two-spotted spider mite.). These pests lay their eggs on the under surface of leaves and produce fine webbing especially where the leaves are attached to the stem. Spider mites are hard to see with the naked eye, and may appear only as small red dots. They are more often recognized by the gritty feel of the leaf when you run your finger down it’s length, or by the appearance of discolored leaves due to the sucking action of the mites. The best way to prevent spider mites is to keep your plants clean and dust free. Treat spider mites by spraying every ten days for a month with a product such as Safer Insecticidal Soap.. There are several ways to increase the humidity. Group plants together to create a mini greenhouse effect. Place a small humidifier in the room. Set your plant on a wet pebble tray. This is simply a shallow dish lined with small rocks or pebbles. Keep the water just below the pebbles so that the plant never sits in the water. As the water evaporates it increases the humidity in the air. Refill the water as needed.
Pruning: By pinching back stem tips during the winter, you’ll be rewarded with lots of new growth and a bushy plant in the spring.

See pictures and learn more about identifying and caring for your plants in the Popular Houseplant section of the website. Use the Plant Wizard to select the right plants for a specific location. Send your houseplant questions to Ask Judy; please include a picture if possible.

Please keep Poisonous HouseplantsIn her new book, Don’t Feed Me to Your Cat!, plant care professional Judy Feldstein shares information about twenty-five common houseplants, each with various levels of toxicity, and the possible consequences if your pet or child snacks on them. away from small children, cats, dogs, birds, and other pets. See pictures and learn more about Poisonous HouseplantsIn her new book, Don’t Feed Me to Your Cat!, plant care professional Judy Feldstein shares information about twenty-five common houseplants, each with various levels of toxicity, and the possible consequences if your pet or child snacks on them. in
Don’t Feed Me to Your Cat! A Guide to Poisonous HousePlants
Keep this information handy as a quick reference not only for yourself but for babysitters and pet sitters as well.