4 Horticulturalist-Approved Tips To Keep Your Houseplants Happy This Winter

Avoid sad, dried out plants this winter with these expert-approved tips.

December 20, 2017

Your hygged-up home might feel like a haven this time of year. But for your houseplants, that warm, cozy environment might be too much of a good thing.

Dry indoor air, intense heat sources, and less natural light can stress some houseplants out during the winter—leaving them brown, droopy, or downright crispy. As a result, even those pots that are normally easy to care for (like these 10 low-maintenance houseplants) can require a little more TLC.

The good news is that giving your leafy greens what they need doesn’t have to be complicated. Here’s what plant pros say you should know.

(Whether you're starting your first garden or switching to organic, Rodale's Basic Organic Gardening has all the answers and advice you need—get your copy today!)

watering houseplants
You might need to switch up your watering schedule

You may assume that plants need more water in the winter, since the air inside your home is drier. But that’s not always the case. “Many people find their plants use a lot less water in the winter because the plants aren’t growing as much,” says Justin Hancock, a horticulturalist with Costa Farms. “So if you try to water the same all year long, you may inadvertently end up overwatering.”

To see if your plant is thirsty, poke your finger about an inch into the soil, recommends Amy Enfield, PhD, Consumer Horticulturalist. (Go a full two inches deep for succulents.) If it’s dry down there, then it’s time to water. (Check out these 9 surprising liquids you can use to water your plants.)

One big exception to this rule is ferns, which freak out when the air gets too dry, Hancock says. But instead of watering more, fill the bottom tray with sand or pebbles and water. (The pot should sit on top of the pebbles instead of coming in direct contact with the water.) “As the moisture in the tray evaporates, it humidifies the air around the plant,” he says.” Moving moisture-loving plants to a more humid room like the bathroom can also help, Enfield adds. (Here's how to grow ferns that are the envy of the neighborhood.)

Here's the best way to repot your indoor or outdoor plants:

Steven Beijer / EyeEm/getty
You should move your plants away from hot or cold spots

No matter what type of heat you have, direct exposure is probably too intense for your plant, Hancock says. So avoid placing pots on the radiator or directly on top of or underneath a heating vent.

Ditto for cold, drafty areas, like right up against a window, which could frost on frigid days. “Most houseplants are tropical and prefer temperatures between 65-75°F,” Enfield says. If you’re not sure whether the temp is optimal, just check it with a thermometer.

Related: 5 Of The Easiest Houseplants To Grow From Cuttings

You probably don't have to worry about less daylight

Plants pay attention to their surroundings—and shorter days and cooler temps signal them to go into rest mode. Since they’re not actively growing, they likely don’t need to be moved to a brighter spot where they can soak up more sunlight, Hancock says. (Here are 51 plants that don't need a lot of sun to thrive.)

In fact, depending on the direction your window faces, your plant might actually already be getting more sun as it is. “A south-facing window might get more light in the winter, for instance, because of the angle of the sun or because a nearby deciduous tree loses its leaves,” says Hancock.

That said, if your plant seems droopier than usual, moving it to another spot might help it perk up. That’s especially true if it normally stays by an east-facing window, Enfield says. “You might need to move it to a west- or south-facing window so it gets more light.”

Related: 5 Mistakes You're Making With Your Succulents (And How To Grow 'Em Right)

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You can prep them for a spring growth spurt towards the end of the season

Plants can go fertilizer-free for most of the winter, since they’re not actually growing. But as winter winds down and you begin to spot new leaves sprouting, you can start feeding them to give them a boost.

Two easy snacks that you can make with ingredients you probably already have: Dried eggshells, which can be ground into a powder and sprinkled onto the soil’s surface, add calcium, Enfield says. You can also mist leaves with water mixed with Epsom salt (try 1 tablespoon per gallon of water) to give plants an extra dose of magnesium.

Related: 5 Houseplants So Hardy They Would Even Grow On The Death Star