Help Your Houseplants to Thrive this Winter

Wintertime Houseplant Care Guide

Taking care of houseplants is a labor of love.  But as winter approaches, it’s important to keep in mind that this is the time of year when a few missteps can quickly kill an indoor plant.  

To help avoid these seasonal pitfalls, here are a few tips from gardening experts:

Let There Be Light

Did you know that, during the winter, light levels near windows can drop by around 50%?

To allow maximum light inside, try cleaning your windows on both sides.  Also, dusting and lightly washing your plants can help them to make full use of the light they receive.  Move your houseplants closer to the window, and take particular advantage of southern and western exposure.

Finally, you may wish to consider adding artificial light. Fluorescent bulbs are best. Keep them 4-12 inches away from your plants for the most effective results. 

How Dry I Am

Most houseplants need a humidity level of 40% to 50% in order to survive.  But in winter, indoor humidity levels can often hover around 5% to 10%.  Indoor heating can make your home as dry as a desert.

Fortunately, increasing the humidity of your home is relatively simple. Techniques include:

  1. Using a humidifier or vaporizer.
  2. Misting plants with room-temperature water.
  3. Placing houseplants on a pebble-lined tray filled with water right below the pebbles.  As the water evaporates, room humidity increases.

Room Temperature

Most houseplants are tropical plants.  This means they prefer temperatures between 65° F and 75° F during the day, and about 10 degrees cooler at night. Temperatures below 50° F can often cause problems.

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houseplantsSo while you’re adjusting the thermostat to cater to your own comfort, consider your plants as well. For instance, be careful not to place them near cold drafts or heat sources. And, while you may move them closer to the windows for light exposure, make sure they’re still several inches away.

If your windows frost overnight, you’ll want to move your houseplants away from the windows at dusk. Another option would be to slip a heavy shade (or other insulating material) between your plants and the glass.

A Word About Watering

Overwatering in winter is the most common way to kill a houseplant. Most houseplants don’t need as much water during the winter season. In addition, about 95% of indoor plants need the soil to dry out almost completely before watering.

So how can you tell if plants need water?

  1. Poke your finger into the soil up to two inches. If the soil is dry, water.
  2. Dry soil is lighter than moist soil, so lift the pot. Learn how wet soil feels by lifting pots immediately after watering.
  3. If you humidify winter rooms, your plants won’t need water as often. Dry air means more watering.

The following video clip demonstrates the proper way to water houseplants:


Potted citrus and ferns are  the exceptions to the drying-out rule. They require consistently moist soil. So always research plant moisture needs, if you’re unsure.

Finally, never allow plants to sit overnight in water that collects in the drainage saucer.

A Couple of “Don’ts”

A couple of things you DON’T want to do to your houseplants during the winter are: fertilize or repot. These are best left for the spring and summer months, during times of active growth.


Bayer Advanced

National Gardening Association

New Frontiers School Board

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