Apr 15 , 2019
Winter brings a new set of conditions you need to consider for your house plants. Here’s an Aussie-focused set of tips on how to best care for your green babies.
Please note, I’m based in Sydney where our winters are mild (rarely dropping below 7C). It’s a tad tricky to cover off all climates so you may need to adapt this advice depending on the climate where you’re based.
1. Go easy on the watering
With less sunlight during the shorter daylight hours and less heat with dropping temps. plants will become dormant. As they're less focused on producing new growth, they need less water than usual. Get into the habit (if you haven’t already) of testing the soil’s moistness by sticking your finger in the soil, and watering when the soil is dry (bar any plants that need constant moist soil).
A great hack for those who like to remove the guesswork from plant care can be found in moisture meters. These will set you back only $14 at Bunnings (or on eBay). These nifty devices will read the moisture levels in your soil to guide you on whether or not to water your plant. They also have the added benefit of aerating your soil. I've saved many a plant from overwatering thanks to this simple gadget.
As a rough guide, you should only need to water your plants twice a month during winter.
2. Keep an eye on your humidity levels
If you love to blast the heater like me, you’ll want to keep an eye on your humidity levels as the heater will make the air a lot more dry. The vast majority of indoor plants are native to tropical areas, so are sensitive to decreases in humidity. Low humidity can lead to brown tips, curling leaves and sometimes death depending on the plant.
The ideal humidity level for plants and humans is between 50% and 60%. Hygrometers are nifty & cheap devices to use that will read your air's humidity. I have a few of these placed around my house, which I bought on eBay, and have been pleasantly surprised to learn my home is naturally quite humid in some spots.
A few humidity hints & tricks:
- The obvious choice to increase air humidity is with a humidifier. I use a Beurer brand one for a few hours each day. Ensure you use these in areas with good air flow to avoid mould
- If you need a fast hack, a clear plastic bag over the top of a plant creates an instant mini greenhouse. This works nicely for a plant that is showing all the signs of low humidity and needs an instant pick me up. If the plant is small enough, you can use a glass cloche for the same effect (find these at Kmart, Typo etc.).
- Bunnings sells mini greenhouses starting from $20. They make a great plant rehab centre if you have a bit of spare room. Line the base with plastic containers filled with water to keep the air humid. My greenhouse maintains reads 80% on my hygrometer with this setup, and no need for misting! I will note these are very light, and mine is used indoors only. If used outdoors, ensure you weigh it down or even tie it down so it does not blow away.
- Your bathroom is often the most humid space in your home. If it receives natural light, move some plants in here for their own spa retreat
- Clustering plants together creates a mini climate of humidity. As each plant loses water through transpiration, another nearby plant can absorb it
- Use pebble trays. Place pebbles in a tray or saucer, and then fill it halfway with water. Position your plant on top, and the evaporating water will create humidity without getting the plant's feet wet (as the pebbles stop the base of the pot being in direct contact with water)
3. Reposition your plants
Keeping in mind the climate of tropical regions where most houseplants live in the wild, houseplants aren't really adapted to the cold. The minimum temperature they are ok with is 15C. So you'll want to watch out for cold windows or other drafty spots, or rooms that get super chilly, and relocate plants accordingly. If you have plants outside, you may want to move them in depending on how cool it gets where you are. It only takes one chilly night to harm your plants
As a rough rule, if us humans are comfortable with the temperature, so are our plants. But if you have the heaters going, consider the location of the vents, and move any plants that are in the firing line, so to speak, so you don’t dry them out.
4. Put down the mister!
Aside from the fact that misting doesn’t raise humidity for more than 30 seconds (& is therefore not a solution for battling dry air), misting when it’s cold can also cause spotting & infection on leaves.
If you need to mist, ensure the water is at room temp, do it only in the mornings, & ensure it’s warm enough for the water to dry quickly. I have learned this the hard way with my Monstera deliciosa which developed 3 brown spots a day after I misted it. Sometimes it’s better to love your plant less not more!
5. Reduce your use of fertiliser
Your plants, being in hibernation mode, will slow down during winter, therefore so should your use of fertiliser. Here in Aus we still get decent sun during winter so plants will still grow. I would recommend either not fertilising at all, or reducing your frequency of fertilising plus reducing the strength of the solution when you do (halve it). Too much fertiliser can burn a plant
6. Repot but only if necessary
Most online guides will tell you to wait til Spring to repot, but I don’t quite agree with this - again, our winters are milder than many other countries. I wouldn’t recommend repotting your whole collection, but if you have a new plant you’ve bought or a plant that is pot bound, don’t let the season prevent you from giving the plant what it needs.
If you want to avoid repotting a new plant, but aren’t keen on the plastic pot look, get yourself some cache/container pots, baskets or paper bag planters. Simply slip the plastic pot (and a tray if you so choose) inside your chosen vessels as a no fuss alternative to repotting.
7. Continue to watch out for pests
Good news for gnat haters - you’re probably less likely to see gnats as the air becomes dryer cos they’re suckers for humidity. Bad news for spider mites haters - these guys LOVE dry air. Year round you should inspect your plants thoroughly & often. Check the soil, under the leaves, in any nooks & crannies, in new leaves that are growing. I do these checks each time I water my plants to keep a regular routine. If you find a pest, try not to panic, and go on to google to figure out the right treatment. Neem oil is a handy solution to have on hand as it works on a range of pests.
8. Watch the market for prices
Pricing for plants is in constant flux with supply and demand. Supply will inevitably decrease during winter, & so prices will go up, especially for any hard to find plants. If there’s a plant you’ve fallen in love with but aren’t too sure of the price, wait a few months (if you can) until they’re more abundant and cheaper. I bought my baby Pink Princess last June for $50 and they’re now $25. You may also wish to avoid having plants posted, as exposure to cold air can damage plants.
9. Regularly rotate your plants
Plants are more likely to stretch towards the sun with less light during the winter months. A quarter turn each time you water them keeps them growing evenly. If your succulent is looking leggy (all stem, no leaves), move it closer to light.
Lucky for us here in Australia, most of us don't experience extremely low temperatures (apart from our very Southern friends), so winter is not something to be too worried about. You just need to be prepared to change up your routine a little bit, and keep on an eye on your green friends to keep them happy & lush.