How to care for plants indoors over the winter (Gardening for Life)
By JOSE GERMAN GOMEZ
for Montclair Local
With winter upon us, outdoor vegetation is mostly brown, trees are leafless, and the weather is less than inviting.
While gardening outside is no longer an option, you can create a lush, green environment inside your home with indoor plants. Their winter greenery can lift your spirits while also creating a healthier indoor environment.
Keeping your houseplants healthy over the winter can be challenging, but by following a few guidelines you can help ensure that your “indoor garden” flourishes until spring.
Most of our favorite indoor plants are of tropical origin, accustomed to a warm, humid climate, so chilly weather is a challenge for them. Some grow in shade in their natural habitats and do not require bright sunlight.
Even so, with winter’s shorter days and limited sunlight the metabolism of your houseplants slows down, causing some plants to go dormant. It’s time to find ways to provide as much light as possible to give your plants a boost.
Here are some tips to help give them the light they need:
- If your plants have thrived over the years in the same spot, leave well enough alone — don’t move them.
- If plants are in spots that are sunny in other seasons but not in winter, move them near a south-facing window if possible; that’s where they’ll get the most of that precious winter sunlight.
- Keep the plants’ leaves clean, making sure there is no dust. This will allow them to absorb more light.
- To compensate for any lack of light in your home, you can use grow lights for indoor plants.
What about watering?
Winter also affects the amount of watering houseplants require. Keep in mind that the heat and low humidity of your home may cause the soil to dry out faster. Follow these tips for winter watering:
- Always use room-temperature water to water your plants. Cold water could shock them.
- To determine when to water, insert your finger up to 2 to 3 inches into the soil, and only water the plant if the soil is dry. Remember that too much water leads to sick plants.
- Low winter humidity means you will need to water your houseplants more, but putting a humidifier in the room will help to keep the plants from drying out.
To fertilize or not to fertilize?
In winter, your houseplants do not need to be fertilized if you added fertilizer during the warmer months. On the other hand, if you missed fertilization, you could dilute to 50% the amount of fertilizer that you would normally apply during the growing season.
How to manage winter temperatures?
Indoor winter temperatures can become a problem. Houseplants are living organisms like us and are susceptible to changes of temperature. If you are comfortable with your indoor temperature, your plants probably will be, too, but like you they are sensitive to drafts or overheating.
Here are some points you should keep in mind when considering the temperature aspects of winter.
- Keep your plants away from frosty windows. Frost can severely damage your plants, and the area next to a window is likely cooler than the interior of the room.
- Keep your indoor plants away from cold drafts.
- While we usually think of cold as the main challenge in winter, overheating indoors can also be problematic for plants. Avoid placing them too close to heaters, radiators or fireplaces, as the excessive dry heat can dehydrate the plants and burn the leaves.
To ensure the proper temperature for plants in cooler spots, such as near a window, you can use a heat lamp, which is designed to provide warmth for the plants without damaging them.
Can I repot a plant during the winter?
Although repotting is essential for indoor plants’ health, don’t do it during the winter short of an emergency. Plants can easily recover from the stress caused by repotting during the growing season, but winter is more of a challenge.
What about pests?
The stressful conditions of winter can weaken your plants and invite infestations of aphids, spider mites and other pests. If one of your plants gets infected with a fungus or insect pest, isolate it and spray it with a Neem oil solution. Reapply the solution until the condition disappears.
Besides being an essential decoration, indoor plants bring great benefits to you and your family. They boost your winter mood, and growing them gives you a feeling of accomplishment. Houseplants also improve the quality of the air, filtering toxins and converting carbon dioxide to oxygen.
Keep them healthy, and you will continue to enjoy your plants for years to come.
Jose German-Gomez is an environmental activist, Essex County certified master gardener and Montclair resident. He is the founder of the Northeast Earth Coalition.