Keeping Houseplants Happy During The Winter

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Many avid gardeners turn to indoor gardening during the winter when they can’t work outside. Indoor gardening during winter gives us the satisfaction of nurturing plants, being surrounded by greenery, and getting our hands dirty.

Ficus tree

But in the dead of winter when the days are short and the house is dry, indoor gardening can quickly turn into a huge chore.

The humidity level and the amount light in the average home during the winter are too low for many plants to tolerate.

Some plants adapt to this harsh indoor environment better than others.

The reason you see the same types of common houseplants for sale in garden centers this time of year is because they can adapt the best.


Generally speaking, most houseplants go dormant during the winter.

Which is lucky for us; it gives us half a chance to keep them alive until spring.

In my experience, the biggest challenges indoor gardeners face during the winter are water, light and pest management.

Heating a house sucks the humidity right out of the air, which is not good for houseplants. Low humidity causes the soil to dry out much faster. The good news is that houseplants require less water during the winter. The bad news is that because of this, people tend to want to water their plants more often. Consequently, houseplants are in greater danger of being over watered during the winter.

Here are a few tips to raise the humidity level and prevent over watering during the winter…

  • Stick your finger down one inch into the soil. If the soil feels moist, don’t water it.
  • Run a humidifier, or better yet, put plants in the kitchen or a bathroom if there’s a window nearby. The plants will love the extra humidity.
  • Put a pebble tray filled with water under the pot. But do not allow the plant to sit in the water, and be sure to change it regularly. Soil gnats love stagnant water.
  • Grouping plants together will raise the humidity level around the plants. It also makes maintenance easier.
  • While it’s best to repot houseplants in the spring, sometimes a houseplant will dry out almost as soon as you water it. If this is the case, pot it up into a larger pot to ease maintenance.
  • Group several small plants into a container garden in a large pot. Larger pots won’t dry out as quickly as small ones will. Plus, your plant collection won’t feel as large.
  • Put houseplants that require special attention in an area you frequent the most. That way, you won’t foget about them and you’ll quickly notice any problems. I put mine in the area where I get ready in the morning, they’re one of the first things I see when I get out of bed. 

Container garden with small succulents

Adequate light is also a tough thing to provide houseplants during the winter. Most houseplants grow slower in the winter, which is good since many will tolerate lower light levels. Unfortunately, some houseplants will grow leggy if not given enough light.

It’s best to know the light requirements of your plants so you can provide the correct amount. Don’t assume that every houseplant needs to be in a south facing window, or that they’ll all be fine stuck in corner. If a houseplant has started to develop weak and leggy growth, that means it’s not getting enough light. Move it closer to a sunny window or add a grow light.

Pay attention to where you put it though, houseplants don’t like drafts; be sure to keep them away from doors and heat sources.

Pest Management
Our houseplants may go dormant during the winter, but this is prime breeding time for houseplant pests. I use the word “management” here because if you have houseplants, eventually you will deal with a pest or two.

Some pests, like soil gnats, are almost impossible to eliminate completely. It’s best to get into the mindset of management rather than prevention, since houseplant pests can come from anywhere.

The best way to fight houseplant pests is to regularly inspect your houseplants for signs of pests. If an infestation is found early, it’s much easier to control. A good habit to get into is inspecting your plants every time you water. If you find any pests, start treating the plant immediately.

Succulents make excellent low maintenance houseplants

Other Tips
  • If you’re just starting out with houseplants, or you hate the upkeep, buy low maintenance houseplants. This will take the frustration out of indoor gardening during the winter.
  • Do not fertilize houseplants during the winter (remember, they are asleep). Stop fertilizing your houseplant early in the fall, and then start again in early spring.
  • Don’t repot plants during the winter unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Indoor gardening takes some practice and work to be successful. Knowledge is key. The more you know about the requirements of your houseplants, the happier you both will be.

Keep in mind, there are many plants that will not do well as houseplants, that’s just a fact of nature. Please Don’t get discouraged if you kill a houseplant! No matter their experience level; every gardener, indoor or out, has committed accidental herbicide (likely on several occasions!).

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  1. says

    I had quite a pleasant surprise this fall/winter. With the change in temperature and light, my orchids decided to bloom! I've been sure to keep their humidity up but have been absolutely blown away by their decision to rebloom.

    I also brought some plants inside and am hoping that with their direct southern location they'll get enough sun to survive winter.

    • says

      Hi Sasha – That is fantastic!! I guess it was happy with all the attention you've been giving it. I haven't had luck getting mine to bloom yet.

      Most of my plants do just fine in the south facing windows. Some will start to grow leggy, but that's how it goes sometimes. Hope yours will do well.


  2. says

    Good post, Amy! I used to have houseplants, but gave up when my cats started eating them and using them as a litter box! I'm planning to start a terrarium one of these days, though.

    • says

      Thanks Beth! I have one cat the likes to snack on them, but I can tolerate it. When mine were kittens, they used to hop up in the large pots and start digging in the dirt. I put a stop to that by covering the soil with tin foil. That broke them of it. :-) Oooo, have fun starting a terrarium! Hopefully you'll blog about it and share pictures too. Fun!


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