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How to Take Good Care of Your Houseplants During Winter

It’s houseplant season! During these dark, cold days of winter while my garden sleeps, I’m grateful to have beautiful plant life in my home. Nothing makes me feel more fulfilled than caring for them and keeping them healthy. In celebration of our green, air-cleansing friends, I’m providing some tips for growing healthy, contented plants.

1. First things first—research! Whenever I get a new plant, I take the time to understand what conditions it will need to flourish. Different plants have different needs. For example, after research, I discovered that orchids cannot sit in water or their roots will rot; ficus trees do not thrive in drafty or cold places and succulents need to be fully watered and then fully dried.

When researching, I take note of optimal light conditions, watering practices, temperatures, potting media (e.g., soil), humidity, and container type (many plants do best with good drainage). I also familiarize myself with warning signs that may indicate that something is harming the plant (a pest or disease, for example). Tip: When conducting research, make sure to focus your study on information from reputable sources, such as those of educational institutions or government organizations or any resource that is backed by scientific research.

2. Make a schedule. Using the information I glean from my research, I create a watering and feeding (i.e., fertilizing) schedule for my plants. A plant’s growth naturally slows down during the winter as a reaction to environmental changes. During this time, plants don’t need as much water or food as they do during spring or summer, which tends to be an active growing season for most plants in the midwest climate. In general, I reduce my feedings to between 25–50% of the typical feeding schedule of the plant during the active growing season. This ensures that I don’t unnecessarily feed my plants to excess.

3. Watch out for over-watering. I have found that many plants need less watering than an overly enthusiastic

gardener such as myself is willing to provide. I’ve learned over the years that less is more unless I’m certain that my plant needs a lot of water. I only have one plant that needs to be watered on a daily basis: Fittonia albivenis (i.e., nerve plant, mosaic plant, or jewel plant). I water my other plants every 5–10 days in the winter.

4. Manage their light—and rotate. As I’ve learned both from experience and from research, the directional exposure to light is an important factor in the success of houseplants. Sometimes finding the best spot in my own particular environment takes trial and error. I rotate the plants every week or so to ensure that, as they reach for light, they do so evenly.

5. Know when it’s time to repot. If the liquid goes right through the pot when I’m watering my plant, then it may not retain the water it needs, and I know it’s probably time to repot it. This often happens when plants are root bound/pot bound and there is not enough potting media to hold water against the plant’s roots. (It is important to refer to research in this situation—some plants are more successful when root-bound/pot bound).

Other indications that a plant needs repotting include wilting leaves within a day or two of watering; discolored foliage and limited growth; or a top-heavy appearance, a sign that the container is no longer sufficient to sustain the plant’s growth. When repotting, I make sure that I use the proper type of container and potting media for the plant. For example, most of my plants need good drainage, so I almost always use pots with holes in the bottom. Succulents do best in clay pots that facilitate easy evaporation, as they need to fully dry out between waterings. If I’m reusing a container, I make sure that it is fully cleaned and sanitized.

6. Spend time with your plants. Get to know them. I find that healthy awareness and monitoring work wonders for my plants. I look at them every day and watch for those signs I identified during my research process. I trim any dead leaves or buds. I look for indications that my plants may have a pest or disease. I check the soil before I water to make sure that it isn’t moist and I’m not overwatering. After familiarizing myself with my plants for a while, I find that I can trust my instincts. The process can become intuitive. Once I get the basics down, it becomes fun—and I hope it will be for you too!

Photo by Roosa Kulju on Unsplash

My second-season Christmas cactus

My 14-year-old peace lily

Maddy Kaudy officially became a Certified University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardener in January 2022. She lives in the Como area of St. Paul and loves gardening, cooking, painting, exploring nature and yoga.


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