Did you know that plants enter their annual 'dormancy' during Winter? This is a rest period and “holding pattern”, as they tick over until the next active growing season. With lower sunlight availability, and chilly temperatures, you'll need to adjust your care. Follow our simple Winter Houseplant Care Guide below to be in the know...
1. CUT BACK ON WATERING
The biggest risk during the Winter months is overwatering, due to plant water needs being reduced. This reduction is caused by the plant entering its annual dormancy, a period of little to no growth, that coincides with colder temperatures. As plants consume less water, the soil stays wetter for longer.
As a plant parent, it is important to not water “unconsciously” on a regular schedule, as you may have done in Summer. Rather let your watering schedule be about checking whether the plant needs water at all. In the warmer months, you may have soaked or completely saturated your plant to ensure that no dry pockets of soil remained around its root ball. In the cooler months however, some more frequent ‘spot watering’ rather than long soaks may be required for plants that are sensitive to overwatering.
TOP TIP: It is best to err on the side of consistency instead of reactive watering when plants demonstrate their thirst. Especially fussy plants such as Fiddle Leaf Figs prefer consistency in their watering regime, even at a reduced watering rate in Winter. Try using a Moisture Meter for increased accuracy. They’re inexpensive and tell you exactly what the moisture levels are at the root ball.
2. MAKE ADJUSTMENTS TO THE LIGHT
Whilst your houseplants may be in a dormant phase, they still require plenty of light to get them through this chilly season.
Some of the practical means of doing this include:
- Cleaning your windows: Sounds obvious, but this can have a marked effect on the daily light penetration.
- Rotate your plants: to give them even access to the soft direct, or indirect, sunlight. This will prevent the plant from leaning towards the light source.
- Consider substituting natural light with grow lights: With the legalisation of marijuana for personal use, these are now readily available on many online stores.
3. REFRAIN FROM FERTILISING
As a general rule, it is best to avoid fertilising in Winter. Plants are not in their active growing phase (which might account for your favourite plant baby not having produced a new leaf in a few weeks…) and thus do not need the extra nutrients.
If however you do continue to fertilize, this should only take place if your plant is still actively growing, it can lead to an excess build-up of minerals in the soil, which can burn plant roots and compromised the health of the plant - i.e. the adverse effect. Over feeding in Winter will lead to weak and leggy growth and will typically show up as discolouration in the foliage.
It is best to start a regular feeding regime in Spring when new growth has started to flourish. You can read about how to go about this in our blog post on Spring Plant Care.
4. WIPE THE LEAVES CLEAN
Many of our most valued indoor plant varieties are prized for their foliage, and in Winter, heaters, fireplaces and a reduction of indoor air movement, can cause a build-up of dust, and even a sooty black layer, which is almost indiscernible to the naked eye.
Only when wiping the leaves with a tissue will you notice how grimey the leaves are. Be sure to make a habit out of wiping the leaves clean regularly. They are, after all, the breathing apparatus for your plant.
For extra effectiveness, use a damp cloth, soaked with lukewarm water. You may also add some diluted dishwashing soap or a few drops of lemon juice to help removes excess grime.
TOP TIP: Avoid leaving any watermarks or wetness on the leaf, as these may leave permanent markings or encourage fungal infections. Consider trying a leaf shine product every so often to help with watermarks.
TOP TIP 2: If you have a lot of plants, try the sock-hand trick when you need to clean them. Take an old (clean, please) sock and wear it on your hand whilst wiping down the leaves.
5. DON'T FORGET THE PESTS
Pests can be especially pesky during the change of seasons. Make sure you prune back any dead or diseased leaves to avoid hiding places for pests or fungi. Avoid leaving debris and dead foliage, within the grow pot.
You can also consider some preventative spraying of a good organic pesticide, such as Pyrol or Bioneem, which will help keep infestations at bay. Preventatively, treat your plants about once a month with your choice of pesticide. And be sure to immediately tackle any outbreaks in the ways that have worked best for you in warmer months.
For more on common household pests, read Identifying, preventing and treating Pests.
6. IF YOU ARE COLD, YOUR PLANTS ARE COLD TOO
The majority of houseplants come from tropical climates and are accustomed to warmer, narrower temperature bands. Whilst many plants can tolerate temperatures below this band, sudden temperature drops are especially unwelcome.
Therefore, be mindful of gusts of cold wind from open windows, doors and passageways. And consider moving a prized houseplant away from a window where overnight temperatures can fluctuate dramatically and often reach near or below freezing point in many parts of South Africa.
TOP TIP: It is best to provide houseplants with at least a 30cm distance between a Window and your houseplant to guarantee they will be happy.
7. CHECK HUMIDITY
We often associate humidity with warm temperatures. However, heaters and fireplaces can dry out the air and lower the ambient humidity to a degree where adjustments may be required. This is especially relevant for plants that require medium to high humidity to look their best, such as Calathea, Dragon Trees, Parlor Palms and Begonias. Adding extra humidity with a room humidifier might be a solution, or the trusted pebble tray method should work wonders too.
Try avoiding spritzing your foliage during these colder months as this is likely to lead to fungal and bacterial infections, due to the lack of airflow and longer drying time of the foliage.
8. ACCEPT THERE MAY BE LOSS
Despite the possibility of plant loss, this does not mean plants. In this case, we are referring to leaf loss. It is natural for houseplants to lose a few leaves from time to time, and this is especially prevalent during Winter.
In general, leaf loss occurs when the plant acclimates to the change of season, and when there is less light and food available. Occasionally trimming off a few lower older leaves can help prevent extreme leaf loss if your plant is overgrown. Besides it keeps your plant looking more compact and bushier.
If you find that your plant keeps losing foliage after a few weeks of Winter, cycle back and make sure your plant is in its optimal lighting space, has no pest infestation or is suffering from cold.
Use these pointers as a checklist during your weekly watering check. As you learn the language of your houseplants, knowing what it needs and wants are in all Seasons will soon become second nature.