With the colder weather, the sun hiding more often behind cloud cover and the days getting shorter it’s time to consider how to adjust our plant care to best support them until the spring time growing season begins.
First let’s address the sunlight – or lack thereof! The sun is lower in the sky and here in the northern hemisphere we are seeing a lot less of it. On Dec 21st, the shortest day of the year, here in California we get about 9-10 hours of daylight a day as opposed to 17+ on the longest day of the year in June.For these reasons you may need to relocate your plants to a brighter location, closer to a south or west facing window. Your smaller plants with less foliage or your bright light loving plants closest and your larger plants that have larger area to collect light can be back a little further. Do not place plants too close to the window if the glass is cold, the chilly temps will not make your tropicals happy! You can also consider a grow light to supplement the lack of sun in winter. We’ve used strip lights under a plant shelf or you can simply replace a standard light bulb with a balanced, full spectrum LED grow light bulb in your existing lamp or fixture. One that we use for this purpose is the 9-watt balanced spectrum LED grow light manufactured by GE Lighting This low cost grow light can be sourced here on Amazon: Growlight
If your plants are receiving more light from one direction turn them a quarter turn to keep lighting even and avoid your plant reaching for the sun and becoming longer and lanky on one side.
Keeping your windows clean will make a surprising difference when you are trying to optimize your lighting. Also continue to dust and keep your plants leaves clean and free of any debris that will block the light and hinder their ability to photosynthesis and create that growing energy they need. This is a great opportunity to check for pests as they are notorious for moving in when conditions are dry and cold, this is not a good time to let down your defenses against pests! Using a neem oil blend during your leaf cleaning routine will help deter an infestation or manage an existing one. We offer a NEEM oil blend for sale on our website here for that purpose: The Plant Sourcery NEEM OIL
Chilly temperatures. Being conscious of where your plants are located in your space may also mean you need to move them away from drafty areas or frosty windows, as mentioned above, in order to protect them from the cold temperatures outside. It’s equally important to be aware of heat sources such as heating ducts, radiators, and fireplaces which can create less than ideal temps as well as a very dry environment. Average daytime temperatures for your plants should range from 65–75°F and at night, no lower than 55°F.
How much water do my plants need in winter? For most plants we are not big proponents of watering schedules. While an average amount of time between watering is a good place to start, we recommend checking the soil for water needs. A finger test, sticking your finger into the soil a couple of inches to assess dryness as well as lifting the plant to check the weight; a light pot generally means less water, are all good ways to assess if your plant needs to be watered. Moisture meters are another great way to check, especially if you want to avoid dirt under your nails! The great thing about this method over a schedule is that you will most likely avoid overwatering… even in the winter months. We offer a low-cost moisture meter for sale here: The Plant Sourcery: Moisture Meter
Plants typically grow more slowly or become dormant altogether over the winter and therefore will use less water. Less daylight, less growth, less need for water or fertilizer. BUT if you have plants that are getting enough light and are continuing to grow you will know, using this method, when they need more water. Be mindful not to use very cold water, you’ll shock your plants! This goes for any season but the water from our taps/pipes tends to be quite cold in winter so make sure to let it warm up a bit.
You will also know if you need to continue to feed your plants based on their growth. If they are continuing to produce new growth you can fertilize, maybe at a lower strength, throughout the winter season. We use natural organic fertilizers like fish emulsion and worm castings. These are gentle and provide all the nutrients your plants need for healthy vigorous growth. Fish emulsion can be used at half strength each time you water and worm castings work as a slow release after sprinkling them on top of the soil and being worked in with each water. Our in-house organic plant food blend is great for this purpose and can be found here: The Plant Sourcery: Worm Castings
Rule of thumb: plants generally need less water in winter. If the soil is dry, it’s time to water. If your plant is continuing to put out new growth you should continue to fertilize.
What about humidity? If you have tropicals in your collection you already know how humidity loving they can be. As we said earlier, colder winter temperatures and heating sources like radiators, heat vents and fireplaces all create a drier environment so it is important to consider how that is affecting your plants. If you’re noticing crispy edges or brown tips it’s a good indication that you need a little extra humidity for your plants.
A great place to start is by clustering your plants in groups. Plants naturally release water through their leaves through the transpiration process, so grouping them together will put that moisture to good use creating humidity for each other. Bathrooms and kitchens are the best rooms to congregate your plants because they absorb moisture from showers and cooking activities.
Pebble trays are another way to create more humidity for your plants. Use a shallow dish/tray and fill it with any sort of pebbles then fill it with water to just below the top of the pebbles. Sit the plant on top of the pebbles, being careful not to let the plant sit directly in the water. This will create a more humid micro-climate around the plant. A humidifier is always helpful. Humid air rises so keep your humidifier low or on the ground, nearest to your most humidity loving plants to get the most benefit.
Finally, a note on dormancy; some plants will naturally go dormant in winter. In nature it is quite apparent, perennials stop growing and trees lose their leaves. Some plants like Alocasia for example will slow their growth and even show yellowing leaves especially if they notice the change in their climate. If this happens don’t panic, backing off on watering is most important if you see a slow in growth, your plant will recover when it perceives the approach of spring. However, if you make the changes above it is likely your houseplants won’t even recognize the change of season and continue to flourish for you all year round.
In short winter care is similar to every other time of year if only at a slower pace. Much like the rest of us summer loving beings when the days get shorter, we can be a little less active, want to cuddle up and stay warm, soak up the sun when it’s out and look forward to jumping into spring!
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