The onset of winter weather outside can take a surprising toll on indoor plants. Dry air, dust accumulations, and dwindling daylight, can quickly add up to less than ideal conditions for your plants. Here are some easy tips for keeping your houseplants healthy throughout the winter season.
Dust Their Leaves
Once your home's windows are shut for the season, it's easy to put off dusting. Plants are equipped with tiny pores or openings (stomata) on the surface of their leaves. This is how they breathe (exchange gases). If these pores become clogged with dust, the plant quickly becomes dull and unattractive in appearance, growth becomes restricted (dust blocks out already limited seasonal light), and the plant starts to deteriorate. Regular dusting will also help prevent insect infestations.
- Clean your plant's leaves using a sponge or soft cloth dipped in lukewarm water. Remember to support the leaf with your hand, and avoid pressing down hard on the surface.
- If possible, clean your plant's leaves early in the day so they will be dry before dark.
- For Cacti, African Violets and plants with hairy leaves, use a cotton ball or soft brush to remove dust instead of spraying them with water.
- Don't forget to dust the underside of your plant's leaves. Pores (stomata) exist on both the top and bottom surfaces of plant leaves.
Central heating during the winter can produce very dry air that contains as little as 10 to 20 percent humidity. Because houseplants prefer a humidity level of around 40 to 50 percent, intervening to increase the humidity around them is usually necessary. As a general rule, plants with thin, papery leaves require a higher level of humidity than plants with thick, leathery leaves.
- Misting This is not the most efficient (or effective) way to raise the relative humidity around your plants, but it does offer some temporary relief. Keep a spray bottle next to your plants to remind yourself to give them a quick mist each day when you walk by. Coat both the stems and leaves with a heavy layer of droplets. If you have wood floors, placing a towel on the floor around your plants will prevent moisture damage.
- Grouping By grouping plants next to each other, they all benefit from the moisture in the compost and on the leaves of nearby plants. As a group, their foliage acts as a canopy to trap moisture and keeps the air surrounding them more humid.
- Pebble Trays Another way to raise the humidity around your plants is with a pebble tray. Place a layer of pebbles in the bottom of a shallow tray. Fill the tray with water to just below the top of the pebbles and arrange the plants on top. As the water evaporates, the air around the plants will remain humid. An alternative method is to place your plants on a tray filled with damp peat moss.
Let Them Rest
Nearly all indoor plants need some type of resting (dormant) period during the year in order to put out healthy new growth in the spring. For example, flowering plants like orchids and cacti will flower poorly (or not at all) if they are not given a winter rest. Because of its cooler temperatures and shorter days, this dormant period usually takes place during winter. When your plants are at rest, growth either slows significantly or stops altogether. As a result, their feeding and watering schedule needs to be adjusted accordingly.
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- Temperature Most houseplants will continue to thrive with indoor temperatures around 65 to 70 degrees F and during the day and temperatures of 60 to 65 degrees F at night. Avoid sudden temperature fluctuations by keeping plants away from cold drafts, heating ducts, and frosty windows.
- Fertilizer Once it becomes obvious that growth has slowed, houseplants should be fertilized sparingly (if at all) in the winter. You can always add more, but it's difficult, if not impossible, to undo the damage caused by over-fertilizing. When growth resumes in the spring (around March) gradually increase the feeding schedules.
- Water In general, most plants require less water in the winter than when they are actively growing during the rest of the year. Once a week is usually often enough for most houseplants. Of course there are always exceptions. Ferns, for example, prefer evenly moist soil all year round and may need to be watered more often. Succulents like cacti can go longer.