Your Houseplants Hate Winter—Here’s How to Help Them Thrive

updated Jan 14, 2021
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We do lots of frantic things to prepare for the cold winter months. We winterize our car tires, seal the doors of our homes, and make up our beds with the warmest blankets. We pull out our favorite sweaters and put our favorite sandals away for next year. Just last week, I was crawling around in the basement of my house trying to figure out why my furnace wasn’t firing. (I don’t advise waiting until it’s 32 degrees outside to see if your heat source is in working order.) There is much to be done before the weather starts to turn icy.

As everyone is running around trying to finish up, houseplants are typically forgotten. After all, most thrive indoors with basic care, so it’s easy to overlook them. And the environment inside your home doesn’t change nearly as much as the one outside, so their lives are practically the same, right? Sorry, but the answer is no.

With the heat blasting and the cold trying to slip in between the cracks of your windowsills, the climate inside your home changes radically during the winter months. All houseplants, from the most basic to the trendiest gems, need extra care to ensure they make it through the colder months. Now is the time to start changing your plant habits for winter. 

Credit: maramorosz/Shutterstock

Adjust Your Watering Schedule

The first, and most common, bit of winter houseplant advice has to do with your watering schedule. Because of the shorter days and colder weather, houseplants slow the intake of nutrients and therefore slow their growth cycles. You might find that some of your plants stop growing completely. This is totally normal!

Continuing your standard watering routine will lead to rot and other problems, simply because your plant won’t be able to soak up all that H2O. So to protect your plants, you’ll need to cut back on watering.

Make sure to let the soil of your plants dry out completely before each watering. Don’t water until the soil is dry at 3 inches deep (try using the knuckles on your index finger or a marked chopstick to measure). 

I tend to go to the extreme with changing my watering schedule, just to be safe. I don’t water my succulents until the leaves begin the pucker, which can take months. I hardly water my snake plants or ZZ plants at all. Sometimes I even go two or three weeks without watering my fiddle leaf fig. Yes, really! Paying close attention to how long it takes the soil to truly dry out will help you create a routine that works.

Credit: Brett Holmes/Shutterstock

Add Some Humidity

Tropical houseplants love humidity—some as much at 60 percent or more—so they’re sensitive to winter’s dry air. When you kick your furnace on or your building superintendent cranks that boiler, the dry heat immediately begins wicking moisture out of the air in your home. This is when many leafy plants begin to suffer. 

A quick, easy fix is to invest in a humidifier. They start at as little as $20 and come in a range of shapes and sizes to suit your home (and will offer benefits to your skin’s health as well as your plant’s).

Humidifiers aren’t the only solution. You can also mist your plants by hand—but for that to be effective for your tropical plants, you’ll need to do it at least three times a day. Try a misting schedule that coincides with your mealtimes for an easy way to remember.

Another way to boost humidity is to set your plants on a tray filled with stones and water. You’ll need to refill the trays multiple times a week, but this method is particularly effective as the water evaporates right into the foliage of your plants.  

Move Your Plants to Take Advantage of Light

Winter months equal less sunshine. While most houseplants will be fine in their favorite spots in your home, you may need to move your sun-loving babes to a brighter window. This applies to most succulents and cacti, as well as air plants and carnivorous plants.

For plants that are especially sun-loving, such as carnivorous plants, it might be worth investing in a grow light to help give them an extra boost.

Credit: Carina Romano

Try to Regulate Temperature Changes 

Get to know your plant. A little research and observation will tell you whether or not the plant is temperature sensitive. 

Watch out for air exchanges and radiators that pump out heat. If you put a houseplant near any heat or air exchange, it’s going to suffer. Pay attention to where your air exchange vents are pointing—if they’re facing right at your fiddle leaf fig, change the plant’s position. 

Be mindful of drafty doors and windows. Putting a plant next to a door that leads directly outside in the winter will be disastrous.

Also, keep an eye on your windowsill plants. If you have new, double-paned, expertly sealed windows, your plants will be fine. However, if you’re like me and live in an old institution of a house, cold air blasts through those little cracks in the seals and will freeze plants—especially succulents. Proceed with caution.

Skip the Fertilizer and Repotting (for Now)

There is no need to fertilize your plants in the winter. There is also no need to give them new homes. Your houseplants aren’t absorbing many nutrients at this point, so you’re basically wasting your product. Wait under the spring, when your plant is actively growing, to give it a shot of fertilizer and a new pot.

The Apartment Therapy Plants vertical was written and edited independently by the Apartment Therapy editorial team and generously underwritten by Greendigs.