Troubleshooting

Caring for Houseplants in Winter

Winter Is Coming... Help Your Plants Make It Out Alive!

Most houseplants aren't used to the winter conditions that we experience in our more temperate, less-than-tropical climates. That's why we keep them indoors, after all. But, even indoors, winter comes with changes that our plants aren't always prepared to withstand on their own. Arming yourself with the knowledge of what and how these changes affect your plants can help you make the necessary adjustments in your care routine. And your plant family will reward you for your diligence when spring comes back around! 

Preparing For Winter: The Dos!

Wintertime is generally the time to be a little more hands-off with your plant care, but there are a few preventative actions you can take to keep your plants happy.

Bring Them Inside

This might seem obvious, but you need to bring your plants inside before the temperature drops below what they can withstand (likely below 50° or 60° F). Many of us like to treat our plants to some outdoor time to give them a little boost during the warmer months. I mean, it can start to feel almost tropical during the summer in many places! However, this should be a fairly short stint with a big enough buffer to give your plants a chance to adjust. As soon as nighttime temps start to drop, it's time to bring those babies back inside. But! Please try to do it gradually. 

Slow and Steady

They've been basking in the sun all day, directly in the elements, getting used to the balmy temperatures. You don't want to put them into shock by bringing them inside and not letting them adjust.

It's best to bring the plants inside gradually, matching indoor and outdoor conditions as best you can.

You'll want to bring them inside when the windows are open and the light is plentiful. If you can’t open windows, at least keep the temperature inside similar to the outside temperature (definitely avoid A/C blasting close by). You can start with a few hours a day, slowly adjusting the time spent inside until you leave them inside. 

Do keep in mind this is a huge adjustment for them and you're likely to lose some leaves as they adjust to their new environment, no matter how cautiously and gradually you bring them in. 

Watch for Pests!

It's a great idea to take some time to examine your plants before bringing them indoors. Pests and diseases can spread rapidly from one plant to another. The last thing you want to do is bring an infestation into your home that impacts your whole plant fam! 

You'll want to thoroughly check the leaves, the stems, the soil, and the undersides of the leaves as well. Pests love to hide out in crevasses and undersides of leaves, so bring out the magnifying glass or a flashlight if you must!

If you're in a hurry to bring your plants inside before you've had a chance to check for pests, make sure to quarantine those plants far away from any others to reduce the possibility of spread. Also, make sure to water them separately and thoroughly sterilize any pruners or other tools you use on those plants.

Adapt Your Watering Schedule

During the warm months, you may have gotten into a sort of routine for watering your plants. They're loving it and thriving right now! 

Well, as cooler temperatures and less sun descend upon us, it's time to start thinking about reducing their watering.

What you really do not want to do is continue watering at the same pace you are today. This will likely lead to overwatering.

First, check if your plant truly needs water before giving them a good soak. Do this every time you water your plants. Remember, with less light for your plants, the less they dry out and the less water they need. 

Nudge Plants Closer to the Light

As anyone who feels the effects of seasonal depression knows well, there simply isn't as much available light during winter. Most plants can manage this change as they take a bit of a break, slowing down new growth, and needing less water. But, sometimes your plant can try to compensate for the lack of light by "reaching" for it, growing longer stems with smaller leaves that are fewer and far between. This is what we call a leggy plant. 

So while not always needed, if you notice them struggling, it can be a good idea to nudge them just a little closer to what they're looking for: the light source! This may mean readjusting their position or moving things around entirely. Remember, plants much prefer incremental change, so make sure not to put your plant in shock by making a drastic move.

Consider a Humidity Boost

Most plants like humidity; there's no doubt about that. Winter? Not so humid. Heat running in our house dries the air out even more. This can be something of a shock for plants that are used to the humidity of a tropical forest—literally!

Browning leaf tips are a good indicator that a plant is feeling particularly dry. There are a few things you can do to boost humidity:

  • Create a plant community: When grouped together, plants can increase the humidity in the area around them—it's like a greenhouse effect. 
  • Humidifier: Sometimes, you just have to do your plants a solid and get a humidifier. This should definitely do the trick to boost the humidity around your plants. And it'll probably feel more comfortable for you!

Preparing For Winter: The Don’ts

There are a couple of things you definitely don't want to do in winter or while preparing for winter. These are sure-fire ways to put undue stress on your plant babies. 

Fertilize

We know fertilizer may be tempting since many plants do not grow as rapidly in winter and may even go dormant. 

However, fertilizing during winter comes with a whole slew of risks—chemical burns, stressing your plant, ruining the soil quality, and much more. In fact, we dive deep on fertilizer and why houseplants don't need much of it in this article. But it rings especially true in the winter months.

Expose Plants to Drafts

One thing we really need to watch out for is drafts around your plant. You may live in an older home that is inevitably colder around the windows and doors. You probably have a vent or a radiator that helps facilitate keeping your house warm. 

Even if you like to cozy up to a radiator and warm your hands after being outside for a while, your plant does not want to be blasted with hot OR cold air! It's best to keep plants away from any extreme temperatures or any drafts.

They are a bit like Goldilocks; they don't want to be too hot or too cold! 

It's a good practice to double-check your vent locations or note any new drafts that have developed, especially on those windier days. Have to keep the plants happy!

Undertake Major Change

In general, the less change during winter, the better. Think about how you like to cozy up under a blanket during winter months and read or watch TV, basically hibernating. (That's not just us, right?) Your plant feels the same! They just want to stay warm and cozy and not do much until the sun comes back out.

In the Dos section, we talked about doing things gradually. We probably don't need to remind you that some plants can be dramatic about the changes we inflict on them, and they won't always adjust well. So, as you take each of the preparations into consideration, remember baby steps are best!

Repot

Repotting falls into the larger category of major change. Generally, the best time to repot is during the spring because it is naturally a time of growth for plants and they are ready to withstand some changes.

During winter, plants are really just trying to survive. Repotting can be stressful to plants, but especially ones that are in dormancy. So it's best to hold off until spring or summer to repot your plants.

Troubleshooting Winter-Related Problems

Even if you do everything right to prepare, you may still encounter some winter-related issues. The key here is early identification and action to keep your plant healthy enough to make it through winter. 

Dormancy

Some plants naturally go into a state of dormancy during the winter months. This may look quite drastic. For example, Alocasia are known to lose all of their leaves when they go into dormancy! However, it could also be a much less dramatic dormancy, where they slow down on growing or don't grow at all during the winter.

If this happens to you, don't freak out. Keep caring for your plants, and don't assume the worst.

Keep checking on them and making sure that you are still watering according to their needs.

It'll certainly be a lot less water during dormancy, but that doesn't mean no water!

Dormancy is a natural process for many plants and is actually important.  For flowering houseplants, like Anthurium, they need dormancy to have plentiful blooms in the spring. It's that bit of stress that triggers them to want to reproduce (what flowers were intended for anyway).

Legginess

Plants that get leggy are typically trying to stretch towards a light source (sometimes desperately!) This can make your plant look…well, kind of sad! For most plants, this can look like long spindly new growth that ends up being pretty floppy. If you notice this behavior in your plant, there are a few pruning techniques you can undertake (see our grooming article). But if it's still the dead of winter, you might opt to manage the problem rather than jumping to action.

Moving your plant just a little close to the light can often make a big difference in preventing further legginess. You may even start supplementing with artificial light. This will help your plant receive the light it still needs without having to work so hard to get to it!

Browning Leaf Tips

We might sound like a broken record by this point, but winter is dry! And humidity is often vital for our tropical plants to remain happy. If you start to notice leaf tips turning brown in winter, it is likely indicative of low humidity. 

You can do a few things to combat this, as we discussed in the humidity section! Short recap: group plants together or get a humidifier for the plants that seem to be most affected. Or, you can do both.

The important thing is making sure you catch this early so you can reduce the risk of losing leaves. 

You can always trim away those brown edges after you've remedied the situation.  

Leaf Drop

Leaf drop can be a tricky one. As we mentioned in the dormancy section, some plants are natural leaf-droppers in winter and need to take a bit of a break. However, there are a few things to look out for if the leaf dropping seems unusual or sudden.

Major leaf drop could indicate that their surroundings are getting uncomfortable. First, check where your plant is situated. Is it near a vent that is blowing hot air right on it? Is it near a drafty window? 

Drafts are often the most likely culprits for sudden leaf drop. Simply move the plant to protect it from those drafts. But, again, if it's a drastic move, make sure to do so gradually or try your best to replicate similar lighting conditions. Your plant is already uncomfortable! You don't want to change things so quickly that it gets completely stressed out! 

Winter Doesn't Mean Goodbye!

Winter, even a harsh one, doesn't mean goodbye to your beloved houseplants. With your support and a little extra TLC, you can undoubtedly help your plants stay comfortable. Following these tips and keeping an eye out for any winter-related issues you'll be well on your way to well-rested and spring-ready plants!

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