Winter is coming, and nature is falling into dormancy to face the long, cold nights ahead. Icy winds are fanning through the fields and streets, putting nature to sleep with their cold song. They might take the last spark of life from your plants with them if you give them a chance. If you live in a climate where the night temperature drops below 50-55 F during the cold season, you ought to stay vigilant. Any potted plant sitting on the porch, window sill, or other outer location should be brought in and sheltered from the frost.
The roots of potted plants are more exposed to temperature oscillations than the plants growing in the ground. So even though certain plant species and varieties are naturally tolerant to cooler conditions, it doesn’t mean that the same rules apply when they are grown in containers. Insulation provided by the thin layer of soil and the pot is not enough to protect their roots from the frost. Because of that, these plants, too, need shelter during the cold season. However, bringing your potted plants indoors is only the first step of the maintenance process during winter.
Once you get your plants in, a very important question arises – where to put them? Should they sit by the window in the most lighted spot, or are they well off in some corner in the hallway? The answer to this question depends on the plant species. While most plants thrive under bright, indirect sunlight, there are shade-loving species that don’t mind being placed in a less-lighted spot. These include: peacock plant (Marantha leuconeura), nerve plant (Fittonia spp.), spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum), snake plant (Sanseveria trifasciata), rubber tree (Ficus elastica), weeping fig (Ficus benjamina), Dracena, peace lily (Spathiphyllum spp.), Swiss cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa), and similar species.
Light-loving plants like aloe vera, stonecrops, palms, herbs, and citruses thrive best in well-lighted spots near the window. However, keep in mind that poor insulation and opening the window during cold winter days can expose the plants to the freeze and shock them. It is best to avoid greater temperature fluctuations, so ensure that the plants are sitting in a place that is not exposed to bouts of cool air.
Keep it clean
Photosynthesis is already limited during the winter due to the shorter day and lower light availability. The situation doesn’t need to be exacerbated by the layer of dust covering the plant leaves. Cleanliness is just as important to your plants as it is for your living space, and if you dedicate some time to keep them nice and tidy, they will be thankful and return the efforts with beautiful new growth in the spring. Depending on the air quality in your home, you would like to gently wipe the leaves with a wet cloth at least every 1-2 weeks.
Watering & fertilizing
The cold season necessitates a different approach to the maintenance of plants since their wants and needs are different during this time. Their activity drops with the availability of sunlight, and their metabolism slows down. Due to these biochemical and physiological changes, plants need far less water and nutrients than they do during the growing season. Cutting down watering is essential during this period to avoid root rot and ensure successful wintering. The most common mistake novice growers make is sticking to the regular watering schedule, which leads to overwatering – a very expensive mistake to make, since the outcome is often lethal.
Make sure that the soil is well dry before watering your plants to minimize the risk of overwatering. This usually includes watering the plants once every other week to once a month. The exact optimal time depends on the plant species, temperature, and air humidity levels in the growing room. If your home is very warm and dry during winter, you will probably need to water your plants more frequently.
Since the heaters are on most of the time during the cold winter days, the air humidity in the home tends to be on the lower side of the scale. The optimal indoor air humidity level sits somewhere between 30% and 50%. If it commonly drops below 30%, the dryness could create problems for your plants in a number of ways. Aside from damaging their tissues, it can also create favorable conditions for some quite unfavorable guests – spider mites. These tiny arachnids can reproduce like crazy, swiftly increase their colonies and decimate your plants in a blink of an eye. Spider mites like warm and dry conditions, which is why they are such common pests indoors. Keeping air humidity up is one of the basic ways to keep their numbers in check.
The most common symptoms of low air humidity are the drying of the leaf tips and thinning of the leaves (in succulents). In extreme cases, entire leaves can turn yellow and wither. Although dry air is rarely lethal to plants, it doesn’t mean that it should be left unchecked. Low air humidity is bad for humans, just as it’s bad for plants. If you have a few bucks to spare, investing in a humidifier would be the easiest and most practical solution to control air humidity levels in your home. However, if you are looking to minimize expenses and operate on a smaller scale, gently misting your plants with a hand sprayer every day or two can provide equally satisfying results.
No rest for the wicked
You might think that the cold days bring rest from the pests and diseases that threaten your plants during the growing season. After all, they are safely tucked in indoors, protected from the dangers lurking in the great outdoors. Although mostly true, this shouldn’t lead you to think that threats are non-existing. Some pests and diseases are quite adaptable and persistent, able to cause harm all year long, especially indoors.
When you are bringing your plants inside, you also bring in all the organisms that are on their tissues and in the soil. Some of them might be unwanted guests, like fungus gnats, thrips, mealybugs, whiteflies, and spider mites. These insects and arachnids can wreak havoc in indoor gardens since the conditions are perfect for them to thrive. Pleasant temperatures and rich sources of food enable them to reproduce vigorously. For this reason, it is very important to inspect the plants and the soil before bringing your plants in, and regularly during the first few weeks. Act promptly at any sign of unwanted guests to prevent them from spreading around.
Repotting during winter?
Disturbing the roots when the plant is entering dormancy or is dormant can create lasting damage, so it is best to pause with repotting activities from early autumn until spring. However, if you missed the opportunity and the pots have gotten a bit too tight for the robust roots, with plants having visible symptoms of decline, repotting can’t wait until spring. Gently remove the plant from the old pot and place it into a bigger one, without disturbing the roots or removing old soil. This way, the roots are least likely to be damaged, and minimal stress is caused. After reporting, the plant should be watered lightly, without adding any fertilizer.
Plant losing leaves?
If you notice that your plants are discarding some leaves, most commonly the oldest growth, don’t be alarmed. This is a natural process that helps the plants to more efficiently utilize resources and store energy for maintaining younger, healthier tissues. It lasts for about two weeks, after which the plant is ready to enter dormancy and nap until spring.
- Place plants in adequately lighted spots and limit their exposure to cold;
- Keep leaves dust-free;
- Go easy with watering and wait with fertilizing until spring;
- Maintain air humidity within a favorable range;
- Keep an eye on the presence of pests and act promptly if their numbers threaten to damage the plants.