The winter is a difficult adjustment for our homes, bodies, cars, and pets. It's easy to forget our plants might be struggling as well. Take the extra time to be attentive and provide the proper care for plants this winter so they will survive to see another spring day.
Houseplants suffer through the temperature changes in the same ways as humans. Most houseplants enjoy a 70-75 degree range. During the winter months this may require moving the plants away from drafts coming from doors and windows.
Also, remember that heat rises, so when the thermostat goes up, that does not mean the plants closest to the floor are receiving the full benefit. Cooler temperatures slow the plants ability to absorb water through their roots. Even moving them off the floor a feet inches will make a difference. Invest in a few plant stands or hangers to give them height without taking up shelf space.
However, the use of central heat can be just as damaging. Not only is the air warmer but it also drier. Keep the plants away from vents, fireplaces, radiators, and other space heaters. Increase the humidity around the plants by lightly misting them daily with a fine mist spray bottle, or use a humidifier for the whole house.
Indoor plants need just as much light throughout the cold season as they do during any other time. Unfortunately, as the light patterns change with the seasons, the houseplants may be getting much less than they need. The sun rests lower in the horizon during the winter, so watch the angle of light as it comes in during the day.
Shift the plants so they are getting the best light possible. Some plants may even require being moved to a new window if the angle of the sunlight is no longer breaking through the window pane. Next, clean the windows, both inside and out. Grime and dirt build-up on windows block what sunlight is available.
Finally, some plants are fragile enough to need a UV light. They come in a variety of sizes and most can be installed easily. Remember to place the plant at least 12 inches away from the light to prevent drying out and leaf burn. Keep the light on a timer set to give off approximately 6-12 hours of light. Too much can do more harm than good.
Most house plants become dormant and do not put out new growth during the winter. This means they require less water. Stick your finger 2 inches into the soil. If the soil is dry, give the plant a light watering.
Watering is a balancing act during the winter. If the roots do not absorb all of the water, root rot can occur and the plant can become more vulnerable to pest. Too little water and the roots might dry out. Once they become completely dry, the plant may not be recoverable. Another convenient idea is to install a self-waterer such as a water globe or "plant nanny," so the plant can use as much or as little water as they need.
There are certain plants that bloom only in the winter such as various orchids and cacti. These will require the usual stipend of water. Another good habit to maintain when watering is to dust any plants. Simply use a damp rag to wipe down the leaves while supporting them in the opposite hand. This will help prevent build-up, control pests, and allow the plant to breathe.
Winter is a good time to prune house plants. As leaves begin to brown, just pinch them off with a fingernail. Small scissors or pruning shears can be used on more woody varieties. Pruning and removing dead leaves and stems will also promote bushier growth and prevent mold from building up between decaying organic matter.
Fertilizer is not required during the winter months. As the plants become dormant they no longer need the extra dose of nutrients. Start adding fertilizer again on a regular schedule in early spring. Again, the exceptions to this are any plants that bloom in the winter.
It may also be tempting to repot your plants in larger containers, but non-woody plants may go into shock because they are unable to grow enough to adjust to their surroundings. Woody indoor plants such as rosemary will not have this problem and can be repotted--just use a little extra TLC and watch them in the new pot for signs of a poor recovery.