In the winter, our houseplants are dealing with lower light levels and shorter days, and often experience drier air and temperature fluctuations. These environmental changes mean our houseplants need different care than they do in summer. Here are a few tips for keeping your houseplants happy through the winter in Alexandria.
Why do Houseplants Need Different Care in Winter?
When the weather gets colder and the days get shorter, our plants notice the difference in seasons just as much as we do and start to settle in for a bit of a rest. They grow much slower and use their nutrients and water much slower as well. They may also experience a bit of stress when we turn the furnaces on, which can cause the air to get very dry and the temperatures in the house to fluctuate.
This transition to the drier air and lower lights can make our plants more susceptible to pests, so this is the time of year to keep a close watch for signs of bugs!
What Kind Of Light Do My Plants Need In Winter?
Since the days are shorter and the nights are longer, our plants get less light than they’re used to. It’s a good idea to move your houseplants closer to south-facing windows, if you have them, to maximize their light exposure.
Most tropical plants prefer 12-16 hours of daylight per day, so during the shortest days in November, December, and January, you may want to supplement your tropicals with grow lights as well.
It’s also a good idea to rotate your plants every week or two. With the shortage of sunlight, they’ll immediately start reaching towards the windows. Rotate them a little every day so all sides get even light distribution and the plants don’t tip themselves over.
How Often Should I Water in Winter?
Plants grow slower when it is colder and when they get less light. Because your plants are in “hibernation mode,” they’ll need less water than usual. However, this can be a bit complicated because the drier air from our furnaces can cause the soil and leaves to dry out faster. Yet other sources of heat such as baseboards and space heaters may not dry out the air at all. Cold, damp air can make the soil stay wetter even longer. A good way to check your humidity level is to watch for condensation on your windows on really cold days; if water is dripping down your windows, you may want to get a dehumidifier. Certainly, if your air is that wet, the soil around your plants will stay wet longer.
Either way, you should check the soil, and check the weight of your pots or check with your finger before and after you water them to get a sense of what “dry” and “damp” feel like. If the soil is dry half-way down the pot or if the pot is very light, it’s time to water most plants. Make sure you use room temperature water to avoid shocking the plants. At this time of year, you should be able to cut back on how much water you give each plant by approximately 25%.
Obviously, this varies based on the type of plant. Cacti may not need watering for a few months, but ferns still need more consistent soil moisture and higher humidity.
Should I Still Fertilize in Winter?
No need to fertilize now; your plants are resting. You resume fertilizing in spring when they start growing again.
Pruning in Winter
Sometimes plants get “leggy” with the shorter days. To remedy this, you can pinch them back to encourage bushier growth around the stem. Growth will be much slower, so if you pinch them back don’t expect them to fill out quickly. They may wait until spring to start filling out substantially.
Cleaning Your Plants
Yep, your plants will benefit from cleaning. When we turn our furnaces in winter, it can stir up a lot of dust that’s been resting in our homes. This often settles on the leaves of our houseplants, and this can affect their ability to photosynthesize and transpire. Since they are already dealing with less light, we can help them out by wiping that dust off.
There are two ways you can wash your plants.
- Pop them in the shower, and give them a gentle rinse with the showerhead. Make sure the water is as close to room temperature as you can get. Too cold will shock them, and too warm will burn them. This is probably the best option for plants with lots of smaller leaves, like figs or ficus.
- Wipe each leaf clean with a damp sponge or cloth. This option will work better for plants that are too large to move, or that have large wide leaves like rubber plants, snake plants, and ZZ plants.
After your initial cleaning, you can give your plants a swipe with a soft duster every week or two through the winter to keep them tidy.
Whatever you do, DO NOT wash your African violets! Water on their leaves will harm them more than it will help them. You can use a gentle brush, like a mushroom brush or a baby hairbrush, to gently brush dust or dirt off the leaves. This holds true for any plant with fuzzy leaves.
Should I Repot in Winter?
It may seem like repotting your plant would be helpful, but in reality, repotting can be stressful for your plants. Most plants prefer to be a little bit rootbound, so they’ll be fine through the winter. It’s better to repot in spring when they start to grow again. When you do, only go up by one-pot size (1 to 2 inches).
Remember, if you’ve got a struggling houseplant and you’re not sure what’s going on, take a few photos and come have a chat with our staff at one of our garden centers in Lothian, Alexandria, or Belle Haven (April thru December). We’ll do our best to help you figure out what’s wrong, and give you advice on how to save it or avoid the problem in the future. In most cases, the winter doldrums will pass for your plants—just follow this guide, monitor their water, give them more light, and by springtime, you’ll be surprised by how quickly your plants bounce back!