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Overdoing the water is the biggest cause of fatalities over the cold season. The trick is to keep plants barely moist, but not saturated and definitely not with wet feet. Make sure there isn’t any standing water in the bottom of your nice ceramic pot liners, empty them out. You can cut right back on watering through winter, with very few exceptions.
Leathery toughies like ZZ Plants and Mother-in-Law’s Tongue only need watering in winter when they completely dry out. For most other popular houseplants, don’t water by the calendar; it’s better to use your “finger moisture meter”. Poke your index finger into the potting soil to the first knuckle – if it feels dry at your fingertip, you can water, but not too much. If it’s moist, wait a bit longer. This approach suits glossy or waxy-leaved plants like Philodendrons, Devil’s Ivy, Monstera, Ficus, Anthuriums, Alocasia, Hoyas, Peperomias, Fatsia and Aspidistras. Plants with soft, lush leaves (Ferns, for example) will be a little thirstier.
Most types of indoor heating will dry out your home. If you’re interested in the science behind it, do a search on “relative humidity”. This has a big effect on houseplants; in high temperature and low humidity situations, plants transpire (release moisture through their leaves) faster, which means they dry out faster. Considering a lot of indoor favourites have a high-humidity tropical origin, that’s not ideal!
There are a few things you can do to improve conditions for your plants.
Plants usually adapt to normal indoor temperatures and actually benefit from the temperature dropping at night. Fluctuating or extreme temperatures aren’t good though; avoid putting plants near heat sources, or in cold draughts.
Windows can radiate cold on frosty nights, so move your babies away from the glass. If you can close curtains or blinds behind them it helps insulate them.
Light powers plants. Shorter daylight hours in winter can mean your plants aren’t getting enough light to stay healthy until spring. Grow lights are excellent to compensate but can be expensive.
If you only need the extra light for the cold season, you can get away with supplementary light from a desk or gooseneck lamp. Go for very bright ‘cool daylight’ LED bulbs, with a colour temperature of at least 6500k. Choose something powerful, preferably 10W or higher; when you’ve finished using it for plants you can swap the bulb to the kitchen light! The trick is getting the bulb physically close to the plants, which is why a moveable desk lamp is ideal.
Because the sun’s altitude in the sky shifts during winter, so do the sunny spots in your house. The simplest answer to the challenge of low light levels is to move all your plants to a better spot. Bright indirect light is best and a decent dose of morning or afternoon sun is perfect.
We like to think of this as an opportunity to re-style our plant collections!
In winter, “less is more”. Plant metabolism naturally slows down over winter and a lot of plants go dormant as part of their growth cycle. They simply don’t need as much feeding; some types will be perfectly happy to fast for the whole cold season.
Some tropicals and trailing plants will stay awake during winter though, so if you want to feed you can use Yates Thrive Indoor Liquid Plant Food, diluted at the lowest ‘sensitive plant’ rate.
Keep an eye out for fungus or pests, winter is a common time for them to strike. Good grooming is important to help keep diseases from getting started – strip off any dead or dying leaves and flowers straight away and discard them.
Fungus Gnats probably win the prize for the most irritating indoor winter pest. You can tackle fungus gnats with Yates Gnat Barrier, which forms an attractive physical barrier over the surface of your potting soil.