Happy New Year! Here we are in 2024, a fresh clean slate and full of resolutions. One of my personal resolutions is to take better care of my houseplants. Although I have 18 green and thriving plants in my living room alone, there are always better methods and more things to learn about what keeps the indoors green all year round.
Although they are not outside and thus experiencing the ebb and flow of frost, freeze and snow, houseplants do go through a winter period just like their outdoor counterparts. While more climate controlled inside, the air still changes indoors in winter both in temperature and moisture level. The light levels also obviously change with the shorter days and longer nights.
Because there is less light, you will not need to water your indoor babies as frequently as you would in summer. Less light means less need to photosynthesize, which means less of a requirement to drink in water. This is an easy time of year to inadvertently overwater your plants, so keep an eye out for yellow leaves. I have found that most plants will let you know when they’re thirsty by looking a little droopy in their leaves. In my travels I have learned it is better to under water than over water your plants, as it’s easier to recover from having dry soil than compensating from too much water. There are nifty tools out there that can measure the moisture levels in your plant’s soil and if you have a particularly finicky plant (or a curiosity in science!) I recommend getting one for the pot it is in. My Monstera deliciosa has one and it’s fun to watch the needle change with the moisture levels in the pot.
As previously mentioned, and well-known, sunlight is much more fleeting in the winter and as a result certain light-loving plants may need to move to a different location in the house. I am fortunate to have a large, south-facing window so even in the darkest of days my plants get the most possible sunlight at this time of year. If you find yourself without a large bay window or less optimal light, make space for those plants of yours that look a little shriveled even after watering.
It’s a good idea to know a little about each plant that you own so that you can know the watering and light needs, and if you don’t have any idea what you’ve got, there are plenty of helpful plant identification apps out there. Some apps that are useful are Picture This: Plant Identification, PlantNet and Planta. While they are helpful tools, remember that researching your plants and learning their quirks is the best way to take good care of them!
Houseplants in the winter may drop a few leaves as a result of stress from the change of the season. No worries if they do, it’s a natural part of life! Make sure to gently remove any dead or dying leaves so the plant no longer tries to send important nutrients their way. However, if your plant has dropped most of its leaves, or they are all starting to yellow, it may be a sign that something else is wrong. As mentioned before, downloading a plant app will potentially help you figure out what is going on. There are also great websites out there, especially from universities and garden centers, that take common issues and explain what is going on and how to help. I recently discovered a website out of Iowa State University that describes common houseplant pests and diseases and how to help a plant that is under the weather.
Finally, winter is not the best time to repot houseplants. This is something I am struggling with as well, as I know I have a few plants that could use a new home. The reason behind it is that
plants are already pretty stressed out from the shift in light and temperature and adding more shock to their system will likely cause them to wilt or even die. Plants go dormant in the winter, and any major change to their status could be a death blow to an otherwise healthy specimen. If you really need to get your hands into some dirt, plant some seeds! Winter is a good time to research what plants you want to have in your garden in the spring and summer, and some seeds are early starters and need plenty of time to germinate.
I wish you all the best on your winter houseplant journey. My goal is to keep the fern that I found at Trader Joe’s last year alive for a second year, and to resist replanting a pothos that really could use a new home. We will all get through the winter together, and hopefully our plants will thrive as well.