3 Things Plant Pros Always Stock Up on in Winter — and 1 Thing They Skip

updated Jan 20, 2021
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For people who live in the northern areas of the United States, it’s the throes of winter. The air is dry and cold and you can most likely catch plant lovers day-dreaming about warmer weather. I know that you’ll be able to find me curled up in a comfy chair, armed with a Sharpie, marking up a plant catalog or sketching out a new arrangement for my houseplants. This will happen until the ground behind the thaw and sprigs of green erupt from the cold soil. 

That’s not to say that plant lovers and professionals alike don’t use these slow months to focus on plant care and maintenance. Here, three things they always buy — and one they skip until spring.

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Grow Lights and Humidifiers 

Lindsey Swett, owner of Boston’s Niche — a plant shop in the South End neighborhood, and now with a location in Somerville — has some very specific tips for winter houseplant care.

“Generally, the winter months are a good time to let plants be,” Swett explains. “Many plants are in a resting or dormant period and too much attention might disrupt that.” 

According to Swett, the best course of action for houseplants in the winter is to simply maintain them until the spring. This means monitoring the changing light during the season as well as your home’s temperature.

“If you’re trying to maintain your plants through the winter, it might be wise to invest in a grow light and a humidifier, depending on the plants you have,” she says.

In terms of quality grow lights, there are many options out there that are easy to set up. Inquire at your local plant shop, or peruse the offerings online. Once you purchase a kit, the effort is minimal — about as easy as flipping on a switch! 

For humidifiers, the size will depend on the size of your collection. Some folks choose to purchase a few smaller machines to set up around their home, while other plant parents group their babies together and set up a larger humidifier. The set up is 100 percent based on personal preference, and whether your plants are moisture lovers or happy in a dry environment.

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Moisture Meters

Cheryl Rafuse, owner of Plant Magic, an indoor/outdoor gardening business that specializes in intentional greenery, says that winter is the perfect time to learn how to use a moisture meter

“Winter is prime time for root rot because many plants are entering a slow-growing phase,” says Rafuse. “I always like to have a moisture meter around so I can get an idea of what the moisture level is in my bigger potted plants.”

Just because the top of the soil is dry to the touch doesn’t mean that the soil three or four inches deep isn’t saturated. Adding more water to a plant that doesn’t need it will only promote root rot, especially when the plant isn’t actively growing.

If you’re prone to overwatering, a moisture meter might be your new best friend this winter. 

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Seeds and Bulbs for Outdoor Gardening

If you love outdoor gardening, winter is also the time to start ordering bulbs and seeds from your favorite suppliers. Don’t wait too long to start those order forms. Most trendy suppliers like Floret Flowers and Holland Bulb Farm sell out their inventory in a matter of days. 

If you’ve purchased bulbs to force indoors, make sure you force them before the end of winter, or be ready to plant them outside. Bulbs like tulips, paperwhites, and hyacinth have a specific growth pattern of growth and dormancy. Laying dormant (without growing) for a year or more will slash their viability in half. 

Yes, bulbs are typically affordable and easy to find, but don’t let them go to waste! 

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One Thing to Skip: Sensitive Houseplants

For plant lovers, one of the best things to do in the harsh winter months is to take refuge in a garden center. These warm oases can make you want to take all those tropical plants home with you, to create your own slice of paradise. But don’t get carried away. 

“Winter is not an ideal time for tropical plants,” Swett says. “There isn’t a great abundance of them, nor should you expect to find them in stores. At Niche, we scale back on plants that struggle during winter, including ficus and alocasia species.”

According to Swett, getting tropical plants from the delivery truck into the store, and then from the store to a customer’s car, can expose them to bitterly cold temperatures that will cause long-term damage. 

Online shops do their best to package plants with heat packs, but keep in mind that current shipping times are delayed from their usual. Heat packs only last 72 hours, which could leave you with severely damaged or dead plants upon arrival. If you order, do your homework to make sure the store is reputable and has short ship times and safe packaging. If not, it’s best to wait for warmer weather to purchase — especially if the plant is finicky (looking at you, fiddle leaf fig).

And Don’t Forget to Be Patient

So if you shouldn’t buy tropical plants and you shouldn’t be helicopter-plant-parents, what can you do?

According to both Swett and Rafuse, plant parents should be stocking up on patience. 

“Everyone should stock up on the ability to handle a yellow leaf!” Rafuse says. “In all seriousness, indoor plant care in the winter is hard if you can’t handle your plants losing a leaf here or there. There’s much less sun, it’s cold, and plants are regulating water and nutrients as best they can.”

The best thing to do? Examine and get to know your plants. “Take this time to check over your plants for pests,” Swett says. “Wash off the leaves, move them away from windows during freezing nights, and put them back in the morning.”

But most of all, Swett says, “winter is a time to give your plants and yourself a break.” So kick back and let your plants conserve their energy for a spring growth spurt — it’ll be here before you know it.