Have you been looking after your plants the same way, day in and day out?
As the seasons change, it's important to change your plant routine along with it. When I first started to grow my plant collection past a few plants here and there as decor pieces, I looked after every plant the exact same way throughout the year. I was treating cacti the same as succulents, and treating spider plants and snake plants in the same manner. I watered these once a week on a schedule, as to not forget. Little did I know how many plants I would lose that first year.
I live in the Pacific Northwest and the climate can change in an instant. Seattle can go from sunny and 80 degrees to 40 degrees and raining in the span of a few hours. While these fluctuations can be frustrating as a human deciding what to wear for the day (do I need my rain jacket? it's cold this morning, will it warm up?), it can be even more frustrating when it comes to your plant collection.
Plants do not like sudden change, and many commonly collected houseplants are tropical or typically grown in hot, humid places. These plants aren't used to large drops in temperature and lighting, but there are ways to minimize and/or mitigate the damage.
Here are my tips to protect your plants during the winter months:
With shorter days and less sunshine, plants will be strained for light.
I typically keep my plants by the window, but there are two problems with this. The first is that, even by the window, plants often do not get as much light as they need during the winter months, especially in the PNW. So if you live in a darker state, where sunlight will be limited over the next few months, I highly recommend investing in a grow light. There are many, many different varieties of these and I hope to do a full post on my favorite grow lights soon, but for now, my best recommendation is to find a high output LED grow light, such as these ones from Haus Bright. These are super easy to install, they don't overheat like many grow lights do, and they're very cheap to run (only using 20W of power for 1200 lumens).
The second factor to keep in mind if you are keeping your plants by the window is temperature. Windows can be sources of drafts and general cold air. This can negatively affect your plants in a handful of ways, but the two most prevalent I've seen are: frozen or cold root damage and withering foliage. If the roots are damp and become too cold, your plant is likely to have some pretty serious damage (if it survives). To mitigate this, I highly recommend using germination pads underneath your plants. I typically place these under my smaller plants, with finer, more delicate roots, but you can place them around large plant pots, too. These create enough heat to keep the roots warm without damaging the plant, allowing you to keep your plants by the window safely. That being said, foliage isn't affected by these germination pads, so it's important to keep an eye out for any signs or symptoms of cold damage (leaves curling and crisping up, drooping and withering). You can find decently priced germination pads on Amazon or at your local garden center.
With winter, comes pests. Plants take longer to dry out, leaving the soil damp and creating the perfect environment for fungus gnats, spidermites, and other pests. The absolute best way to deal with pests is to take preventative measures — this means taking the time to prepare for pests before they even appear. I tend to have the most problems with spidermites.
To prepare, I make sure my humidifier running throughout the day (this mainly deters spidermites) and I invest in neem oil. Neem oil is an natural pesticide made from neem seeds (from the neem tree!).
Be warned, however, as neem oil has a horrible smell, and while natural, excessive exposure can have adverse effects. I spray this on my plants every other day as the temperatures begin to drop, and then only as needed after two weeks of treatment.
Another great way to manage pests is to check your plants and wipe them down. Wiping down the leaves and stems of your leaves is another great way to prevent pests from attaching to the more delicate parts of the plant and taking any saps and nutrients from it. Be sure to dry your leaves and stems off before placing these back by any windows!
Plants don't need as much water during the winter months as they do during the summer. The air is often drier (thus the need for more humidity) and with less sunlight, the soil can take a lot longer to dry. Definitely take the time to determine a new plant routine for each of your plants (no two plants are alike, if I'm honest, even if they're the same type. I have one fussy monstera deliciosa and one that thrives on neglect, so be sure to get to know your plants before settling on a permanent routine).
A good rule of thumb is to stick your finger into the soil, about an inch deep, and only water when the soil feels completely dry. This can differ from plant to plant, but for most common indoor houseplants, this tip should get you started. Some people like to use water meters, but I personally prefer not to, as I've found these to be inconsistent, and I've overwatered and underwatered plants due to incorrect readings.
Give Yourself Grace
Plant parenthood is never easy, and winter makes it that much harder. Be prepared for your plants to go through a handful of changes and possibly even lose a few. Focus on troubleshooting issues, and when all hope seems to be lost, some experimentation can sometimes save the day....or not.
Take these moments as lessons and opportunities for growth: I've learned the most from the plants I've lost, and I've lost more plants than I currently own. You don't have to have a green thumb to be successful at gardening, just some practice and a lot of patience.
Show me your winter set ups by tagging @growingngrowing on Instagram.