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How to Care for Plants in Winter

Do your houseplants look a little sad in winter? It’s pretty typical for plants to look like they are struggling or lose some leaves as we make our way through winter and head towards spring. Learn how to care for plants in winter with these tips.

If you saw some of my plants right now, they don’t all look amazing.

Some look pretty good, but others look a little sad and depressed. It’s normal for plants to look like they are struggling about now.

Winter can be a tough time for houseplants with less day light and dry heat indoors. I always say, if you can get your plants to make it until March, they’ll be OK.

Especially once they are able to go outside and get some fresh air.

Plants naturally go through a phase during the year known as dormancy. Dormancy is a time where plants take a little rest and store energy for the next growing season.

When fall arrives and plants move indoors, there is less light. The indoor air is full of dry heat with less humidity. And they aren’t being fed anymore.

While plants are dormant, foliage growth slows down, some leaves may fall but the roots will continue to grow, thrive and do their thing.

So it’s only natural that by February, they start looking a little sad and unhappy.

They are kind of similar to people who also grow tired of long winter days.

Understanding dormancy and how it affects plants helps us learn how to care for plants better in winter.

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How to Care for Plants in Winter

Believe it or not, plants don’t need as much care as you might think they need during the winter. Plants are resting and don’t need much from us right now.

Here are some basic tips to keep your plants happy and healthy this winter.

(And if you need a refresher on basic houseplant care, click here.)

Sneak peak of the sunroom with plants, swivel chairs and boho throw pillows

Avoid Drafts and Heat Exposure

Much like real estate, location location location is the key to successful houseplant parenting.

Keep plants away from cold drafty windows and doors where they will be exposed to winter elements.

And in the same vane, keep them away from excessive heat. This is why I use faux plants around certain spots in my home, like the fireplace.

Ideally, plants want to be in 65-75 degree environment that does not dip below 50 at night.

Does that mean you need to keep them away from all windows? No because plants need light. But check where they are to feel if there is a draft.

close up of monstera plant in family room near large windoes and sofa with neutral throw pillows

Stop Watering Plants on the Same Day Every Week.

That’s right put the watering can down and read this because overwatering houseplants during the winter is a surefire way to kill them.

While they still require water, they need less while in dormancy.

Most of my friends and family who think they kill houseplants mistakenly believe they should water their plants on the same day every week.

And that’s just isn’t true!

Particularly in winter when they are dormant, they actually need much less. So if you are one of those plant parents that blindly waters on the same day every week, stop.

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Plants that are succulent like aloe, snake plant, string of pearls, etc. don’t need that much water. Less is more with these guys. They almost prefer a little neglect this time of year.

I water mine like once a month, if that.

With all other plants, check the soil on the same day every week instead of watering. Follow this simple test to determine whether the soil is dry or not before watering. You can also use a moisture meter like THIS instead.

Since I started watering less in winter, my plants have been doing much better overall.

So it’s really important to keep an eye on the watering and only give plants what they need when they need it.

watering a monstera deliciosa plant

Add Humidity to the Air

Most houseplants are tropical and thrive in humidity. But during the winter, most of our homes have drier air from running the heat.

If you notice plants getting a little crispy, it’s a good idea to add some humidity back into the air. There are a few ways to do this:

  1. Create a micro-climate by grouping plants together.
  2. Add a humidifier near plants.
  3. Leave a tray of water out around plants to evaporate and add moisture to the air.
  4. Mist plants. Be consistent and do often.

For me, I just group plants together and they seem to do OK. I used to mist plants too but felt like it didn’t do much for them., so I stopped.

Last year, I ran a humidifier in the sunroom for my Boston fern and for the first time ever, I was able to keep it alive.

And I’m happy to report, it’s still doing amazing today!

small sunroom ideas on a budget with simply white walls by benjamin moore, white swivel chairs, boho throw pillows and poof ottoman with lots of houseplants

Are Plants Getting Enough Light?

Depending on your particular plant’s needs, make sure they are getting the right amount of light.

If your not sure, google your specific plant and look it up. Because, in general, houseplants fall under one of 3 light condition categories:

  • high
  • medium
  • low

3 Types of Light Conditions

High Light: southern or southwestern exposure window.

Medium Light: east or west window with direct exposure or bright indirect light from filtered spots near a southern exposure window.

Low Light: north windows or indirect light that is several feet from east, west or south facing windows.

So make sure your plants are getting the light they need.

Front entry hall with houseplants of sansevieria, pothos and peacy lily with wood floors that have painted inlays and arched doorway

When to Fertilize

It’s really important to let plants go dormant in fall. That means, stop fertlizing them in late summer/early fall (depending on what you are using) so the plant can naturally go into dormancy.

When the days get longer and we start approaching spring, I start feeding my houseplants again with a slow release fertilizer like THIS.

I typically start feeding my plants in late February or early March to encourage plants to wake up from dormancy and start the growing cycle again.

Check out my latest YouTube where I show you how to do it.

YouTube video

How to Tell if Your Plants are Alive

Don’t toss the towel on your plants if they are looking a bit sad.

If you aren’t sure whether your plants are dead or alive, there are a few easy ways you can tell.

Snap a Branch

Take a branch that’s roughly the size of a pen and break it.

If the plant is dead, the wood inside will be dead and dry.

If it’s still alive, you’ll see signs of life with moist wood or green inside.

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Scratch a Branch

Scratching a branch is my preferred method, and one that I use on both indoor and outdoor plants if I’m questioning whether a plant is alive or not.

Simply scratch some of the bark off a woody stem. If there is green beneath the bark, it is alive.

If that stem looks dead and dry, the plant may or may not have survived. Further investigation is required.

Check other parts of the plant near the roots to see if its all dead or just a portion of it.

close up of container garden houseplants in my sunroom renovation my houseplants are super happy now
How to Grow and Care for Houseplants

Inspect the Roots

If I’m not sure whether a plant is alive or not, I inspect the roots of the plant.

This involves removing the plant from it’s container or digging it up and physically checking the roots.

Do they look healthy or are they dry and shriveled up?

Houseplants in greenhouse getting lots of sunlight

Clean Your Plants

It’s important to keep plants free of dust.

Wipe the leaves down with a cloth or get them in a shower and hose them down.

Not only does dust promote some pest problems, but it also limits the amount of light plants can take in.

Bee skep and Houseplants in my sunroom After the renovation - how to paint over faux finish in the sunroom renovation. Houseplants in the sunroom
Sunroom Before and After

How to Revive Plants If They Are Declining

If you’ve been overwatering or neglecting and the plant is still alive, there is hope.

As long as you see some signs of life there are ways to bring them back.

Follow these tips to revive your plants.

And that’s it!

I hope you learned out how care for plants this winter and found this helpful. I can’t wait to hear how your plants are doing!

Happy Gardening!

fun planters at the garden nursery with houseplants

More Houseplant Care Tips and Tricks

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  1. Your plants are amazing Stacy. I hope some of your tips can help me with the few I have. 🙂

    1. Thank you Lynda! I am so happy to hear that. I hope they help you too! What kind of plants do you have?

  2. Love this! I’m struggling with my rabbit foot fern over here…thought he had mites and I have sprayed him several times…moved him around…tried to not let him get too dry! I will cry if this one doesn’t make it…bring on spring! He loves the screened in back porch.

    1. Winter can be tough on them right? I have not done well with ferns in my house. They don’t love my indoor climate. xoxo

  3. When I was younger my house looked like yours. Full of plants. Ha! I have a much smaller house but I love plants and tried most of them. Finally, my husband built me a small greenhouse off the south side of our house. I kept it full of beautiful green plants. As I got older I had that , done that, and cut back on the number of house plants. Now I have my greenhouse full of cacti which is my passion. I have several Saguaro in varying sizes starting from about 2 1/2 inches to 28 inches to my tallest at 5 1/2 ft. The smallest I planted seed In 2006, the second one I planted the seed in 1990 and bought the tallest in AZ in around 2000. I still have plants in my front window and love every one of them.
    I live in the Oklahoma Panhandle and have lived in my house for 52 years so far.

    1. That is amazing! I bet your greenhouse is beautiful full of cacti! I would love to have a greenhouse. Someday! xo

  4. Hi Stacy – Love love plants but do a horrible job on inside tropical plants. I’m going to take your advice.
    On another note, when using osmocote, please wear rubber gloves as this fertilizer has been linked to cancer.
    Love everything you create.