As fall gradually transitions to winter, we bundle up against the crisp air while soaking up every last minute of daylight. In a similar fashion, indoor plants make seasonal adjustments too; during winter months (October through February), it’s best to let plants rest after producing growth all spring and summer, allowing them to go into a period of dormancy. Shorter days and frequent grey skies mean less sunlight, and therefore, less photosynthesis—the process by which plants use sunlight to convert energy from carbon dioxide and water.
Houseplant rest involves the following changes:
It may not seem like it to you, but repotting can be a big deal from the plant’s perspective… moving is hard! Repotting is not recommended during the dormant season, and if done, can often lead to overwatering, fungus gnats, or other problems. Most decorative containers are best used as cache pots and are intended for plants to be placed in a plastic, draining container before being set into the decorative pot rather than planted directly into.
While winter in the Pacific Northwest adds to the beauty of the seasons, sunlight is scarce and often unseen for several months. In turn, houseplants should receive less water; plants that receive weekly water can transition to every 2 to 3 weeks, or can simply be watered when the soil is almost completely dry. Cacti and succulent varieties that are watered 1 to 2 times per month during the growing season do best with benign neglect—often times, cactus can go untouched through the majority of winter. Though you will be watering less, be sure to check on your plants weekly to dust off dirty leaves and monitor for pests. Turn them a little each time they are watered to keep growth balanced and symmetrical.
Although sunlight is limited, plants will benefit from any light available. By moving houseplants closer to a window during winter months (south-facing windows are usually the brightest), it offers ample light to keep them comfortable during their hibernation period. If space or natural light is limited, supplementing with a grow light allows plants to maintain adequate UV light absorption. Watering amounts and frequency should always be tailored to each individual plant’s needs and may vary based on specific growing conditions such as light exposure.
As we cozy up inside, the use of fireplaces and heating sources can dry out the soil of our houseplants. For plants like Ficus, it’s important to maintain a consistent air temperature to avoid leaf dropping. On the other hand, for humidity-loving plants, the use of a humidifier, daily misting twice a day, or a pebble tray can be highly beneficial. To create a pebble tray, simply place 1 to 2 inches of pebbles below the plant on a saucer or in a cachepot and fill water to the top of the pebbles as needed.
During spring and summer, the use of fertilizer encourages plants to convert more energy and grow. In contrast, fertilization is not recommended during winter months, as plants do not require additional nutrients through rest periods and can even be damaged by overfertilization when dormant. The exception to this is an organic fertilizer such as Joyful Dirt; due to its organic properties and mycorrhizae base, plants are not at risk of being burnt.
So, let’s all get cozy and relax as we spend more time indoors. It’s been a hard year and our plants have really been there for us—they deserve their rest.