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Basic winter houseplant care PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Friday, 26 November 2010 19:42

By Robert Tigner

SW4 Extension Educator

Houseplants don't thrive during the winter months, yet most homeowners try to “push” their plants to grow. Tropical plants, like trees and shrubs, go through a dormant period. Leaves aren’t lost but growth slows; new leaves and shoots aren't produced.

This natural resting state is important for a plant to build up food reserves and compensate for unfavorable environmental conditions.

Homeowners need to realize most plants grow in locations with at least 14 hours of direct sunlight per day, temperatures between 65 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit and relative humidity approaching 100 percent.

Indoor winter conditions usually only provide 8 hours of sunlight, temperatures ranging between 55 and 75 degrees F and a humidity level of 15 to 20 percent.

When conditions aren’t ideal, plants enter their dormant state. That doesn’t mean plants stop growing - even leafless trees and shrubs outdoor are growing during the winter. During this time, roots continue to absorb water and nutrients and twigs and buds expand.


Avoid Drafty Areas

Plants adapt to cooler temperatures by slowing down the amount of water roots absorb and limiting new growth. However, hot air blowing on a plant from a heat register may encourage a plant to produce weak, spindly growth. Always avoid placing plants in a direct line with hot air. Likewise, avoid drafts. Cold air can damage leaves and buds. Plants should be at least six inches from a window. Keep plants away from frequently opened outside doors.


Minimize Fertilizer Usage

Houseplants shouldn’t be forced into growth by using fertilizers. As a rule of thumb, avoid using fertilizers between October and April. On the other hand, plants need as much light as possible during winter months. A typical double pane window can reduce the potential light by 80 percent. Add that to the fact that light intensity is cut by roughly 50 percent during the winter and you can see why some plants look anemic. South and west exposures provide the most light. Plants typically thriving during the spring and summer in a north or east window may need to be moved to a brighter window.


Shine a Little Light

Supplemental light can be added by placing plants under a lamp. The top leaves of a house-plant should be between 10 and 24 inches under a fluorescent light and 15 and 30 inches for a typical incandescent bulb. Closer placement may result in leaf burn. Further spacing results in less light reaching the leaves and weak growth.


Adjust Your Watering

Water only when the plant needs it; over watering during the winter will kill most plants. Allow all but the most sensitive plants to wilt slightly before watering. Plants can appear wilted for several days before passing the point of no return. It's usually impossible to establish a schedule for watering during the winter. Outside and indoor temperatures have an effect. Check plants frequently for watering needs.


Increasing the humidity level is the most helpful. Group plants together or purchase a cold water humidifier or vaporizer.

Plants can also be set on trays filled with pebbles and water. The pebbles prevent the plants from sitting directly in water.

As the water evaporates, it creates a “mini” greenhouse around the plants. Misting increases the humidity around a plant for roughly forty-five seconds. It might make you feel better, but it does little for the plant.