Happy Houseplants – All Winter Long!

Ask Miss Jean!


Jean Lovell, long-time Resource Central volunteer and former master gardener, tackles your gardening questions!

Submit your question(s) for Miss Jean to: GardenInfo@ResourceCentral.org

Q: Are there any special measures that I need to take to keep my houseplants healthy through the winter?

A: To keep your houseplants happy all winter long, you need to address the four major challenges that they face:

(1) Fluctuating temperatures

(2) Reduced daylight

(3) Dry air

(4) Overwatering

These are definitely not ideal growing conditions and can cause stress to your plant companions!

1. Fluctuating temperatures throughout the day.
Most houseplants thrive in day temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees and nighttime temperatures above 50 degrees. Temperature fluctuations that fall outside of these ranges can come from ovens, radiators, or exterior doors – just to name a few! Moving plants away from sources of heat and cold will reduce their risk to dehydration and stress. You may need to rearrange furniture or change plant stands/hangers to ensure stable temperatures which your plants will appreciate!

2. Shorter days with reduced daylight.
Wintertime brings shorter days and provides up to 50% less light to your indoor plants. Distance from the window plays a key role in light levels, so keep your plants within two feet of the window to guarantee that they receive enough light. Remember to close the curtains at night to keep the plant insulated from low overnight temperatures. Dust on windows and plant leaves can also inhibit light penetration. Make sure to clean the windows and wash plant leaves to maximize light absorption.

3. Dry Air or Lack of Humidity. 
Most houseplants are tropical and need more humidity than most homes provide. People often mist the leaves, but that doesn’t provide adequate, steady humidity. The easiest way to deliver even humidity is with a pebble traya tray with a layer of small stones and filled with enough water to reach the tops of the stones. Place potted plants close together atop the stones, being careful the water doesn’t touch the pot. Check water daily and refill as needed.

4. Overwatering.
In general, houseplants need less water in the winter months than in the summer. Due to many of the factors discussed above, plants tend to slow their growth rate or even go dormant during the cold months. A good way to find out if your plant needs water is to check the moisture levels in the soil’s subsurface. Here’s how: stick your finger about two inches below the soil surface; if it’s dry, then it’s time to break out the watering can. If it’s still moist, then hold off on watering to avoid root rot and other diseases.

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7 thoughts on “Happy Houseplants – All Winter Long!

    1. “Fungus gnat” is an all-inclusive term for a number of small flying critters that breed in houseplant soil.

      You are on the right track with less frequent watering. The larvae, needing moist soil to grow, live in the top 1-2 inches of soil which is why watering from the bottom is the best method of watering – with top watering; the top soil often doesn’t dry out adequately. Bottom watering puts the water into the saucer for long enough for it to soak up into the root ball. Take care not to leave the plants sitting in water for longer than 30 minutes. As growing medium breaks down it retains more water, leading to a need for repotting.

      For the adult flies, fill little dishes with vinegar or old wine with a little dissolved sugar to attract them, or place stakes of yellow sticky traps (available as Gant Stix at garden centers and big box stores) in the pot.

      The good news is that the dry soil reduces the survival of eggs and larvae; adults live only about 7-10 days and as each generation dies out less mating will happen, thus fewer eggs laid.

      Good luck.

  1. I bought a Garden in a box two years ago and I amended my soil with compost when I planted the baby plants. Last year I added compost and mulch. In winter I added leaves to cover the plants. Do I need to add mulch every spring? I know I need to add more mulch, but what about the compost?

      1. “While you don’t need to add compost every year, adding 1-2 inches in the fall is a good idea; it then aids beneficial soil organisms to slowly improve the underlying soil.”

        Good luck, Jean

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