Although they live indoors, houseplants “know” what season it is by the length of daylight and the angle of the sun.
Winter days can be short and dark, and when the sun does appear, it is low and in the southern portion of the sky. Similar to the plants outside, indoor plants slow their growth and go somewhat “dormant” for winter from October through February or early March.
Frequently, indoor plants struggle during winter months due to various factors:
- Changes in available light
- Cold drafts from windows or frequently used doors
- Hot/dry air from furnace vents, heaters, or fireplaces
- Relocation for holiday reasons (Christmas tree, etc.)
We’ve compiled a list of winter houseplant “Dos and Don’ts” to help you and your plants thrive throughout the season:
- Water less frequently: Decrease watering to almost half and make sure plants do not sit in wet drainage saucers—water with room-temperature water only when plants show signs of dryness.
- Increase humidity (indoor heating tends to dry out the air) by using a pebble tray or humidifier, grouping plants together, or by misting plants twice daily (especially beneficial for ferns and Calathea).
- Rotate plants regularly to encourage balanced growth.
- Inspect plants weekly and dust/clean off leaves with neem oil, gentle shower spray, or water and a soft cloth.
- Avoid cold drafts from windows and frequently used doors.
- Keep clear of heater vents, fireplaces, and wood stoves—place diverter on floor vent if possible.
- Consider adding supplemental lighting such as Miracle LED bulbs or Soltech Aspect pendant lights to help plants thrive during winter; run lights on timers for 12–13 hours per day.
- Re-pot from October through February: Dormant, tropical plants will be slow to adjust to their new environment which could lead to overwatering problems such as fungus gnats or root rot. If soil is compacted and hard, use a pencil or chopstick to gently aerate by making several vertical holes, and try watering from the bottom by setting plant in a basin of water for several minutes until it has absorbed water from the holes in the bottom of the pot.
- Fertilize right now: Most plants photosynthesize so efficiently that they are using up stored energy during winter; added nutrients are unnecessary and may cause a brown or black tip “burn” on foliage as the excess fertilizer is processed. A very diluted, organic liquid or gentle product like Joyful Dirt may be used when necessary. Compost tea or worm tea can be used to help increase the soil microbe population or worm castings can be applied as a thin top dressing, but should be covered lightly with a layer of potting soil to promote water absorption.
- Expect to see much growth on plant cuttings or divisions: Avoid doing much indoor plant propagation during winter. Trimming off dead or yellowing leaves is okay and should be expected, as some plants reallocate nutrients from lower leaves to areas higher up on the plant resulting in color changes and occasional leaf-drop.
Fall/Winter Care for Cacti & Succulents
Most cactus and succulent plants will want the brightest indoor light available and may need to be relocated temporarily to a location near a south-facing window or given supplemental, artificial lighting to keep bright colors and compact form. Allow plants to dry out completely before watering; look for signs like slight wrinkling or puckered foliage to indicate dryness. Watch for mealy bugs and other pests as well.