How to Take Care of Indoor Plants in Winter

A friend recently asked me to help her diagnose some health problems with her plants and I quickly realized that she didn’t know how to take care of indoor plants in winter.

Indoor plants are notoriously difficult to keep alive in winter.

One of the keys to having healthy, gorgeous indoor plants is adjusting their care as the seasons change.

​The lower light levels, cooler temperatures, and lower humidity within the home signal houseplants that winter has arrived.

These conditions impact a plant’s growth response and therefore changes need to be made to their care routine for them to remain healthy in the winter season.

This makes all the difference between a plant that dies in winter and one that thrives!

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A grouping of Satin Pothos and Philodendron Plants
Watering less frequently will keep these plants healthy through the winter

Watering Indoor Plants in Winter


One of the most important considerations for winter plant care is to reduce how often plants are watered.

Plants that are watered every week in the growing season may only need to be watered every two or three weeks in the winter.

The exception to this guideline is plants such as ferns that should remain moist at all times.

The reason that most plants will need to be watered less frequently is that they aren’t producing new growth during the winter months and they aren’t using water at as fast a rate to maintain their health as they would in the spring and summer months.

Therefore, they generally don’t need to be watered as often.

Avoid Overwatering Indoor Plants in Winter

When plants receive more water than they can use, root rot develops in the soil which ultimately kills the plant.

Overwatering plants will also promote fungus gnats and other insects to flourish causing plants to decline in the winter months.

Be sure that water doesn’t collect or sit in saucers as this will contribute to overwatering.

When watering plants in winter, use room-temperature water to keep the plant’s roots and soil temperature even.

For a refresher on how to properly water tropical plants, we have guidelines here.

Our best practices watering guidelines for succulents can be found here.

living room with couch and windows with houseplants, dimly lit
Most rooms don’t have enough light in winter for plants to stay healthy.

Providing Light to Indoor Plants in Winter


The lower amount of light available in winter as well as the change in the light’s direction and intensity notifies houseplants that the seasons have changed.

​When there is less light, plants undergo a slowing in metabolic activity- which is a fancy way of saying they don’t grow as quickly or not at all.

Rather, they stay about the same size. This is normal.

​In some cases, they may drop some leaves as they adjust to lower light levels.

This is normal as well.

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However, plants that require medium to high light levels will not fare well in a low-light environment over extended periods.

The addition of a horticultural grow light is a necessity for these types of plants to stay alive through the winter months.

Grow lights can help mitigate this and in some cases, if the plant is in bright artificial light, it may not even know that the seasons are changing.

​However, for many of us, our plants are in our living spaces, and if grow lights aren’t available, low-light plants are the best option for indoor gardening through the winter months.


Turning Plants to Prevent Leaning


We have all seen plants that lean and grow toward a light source- this is known as phototropism.

It often happens in winter when light levels are lower.

To avoid having a lopsided plant, turn them 45 degrees every week or two.

This will prevent any stretching or leaning to one side, keeping your plants symmetrical and attractive.

A brightly lighted bedroom with a plant on a side table
Plants need bright indirect light to photosynthesize

Cleaning Plant Leaves in Winter


The dust that accumulates on a plant’s leaves will also reduce the amount of light that reaches the cells that convert the light into food used for energy.

Periodically removing dust from leaves allows the maximum amount of light to get through to the cells for photosynthesis.

Smaller plants can be placed under a gentle shower with lukewarm water.

For large plants, wipe the leaves with a clean, damp cloth.


Add Humidity in Winter


Another reason indoor plants often die in winter is that the humidity in a home is so low that their leaf edges become brown, dry, and, brittle.

Most tropical plants need a minimum humidity level of 50 percent or more.

A hygrometer is a handy gadget to measure the humidity of your plant’s environment.

A humidifier is the best way to increase the humidity of a room because, unlike misting, it adds moisture to the air without getting leaves wet which can be a breeding ground for bacteria and fungi.

A humidifier can also operate continuously where as misting is a short-term improvement of the humidity level.

Closeup of a monstera plant
Monstera need high humidity and bright light in winter

Fertilizer Not Necessary in Winter


Fertilization as a rule isn’t necessary for most indoor plants in the winter.

This is because they aren’t actively producing new leaves, roots, and, shoots that require added nutrients.

Proper fertilization is important because over-fertilizing can cause the build-up of soluble salts in the root zone and potentially cause the roots to burn.

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Keep Plants Warm in Winter


Another key to keeping a plant alive and thriving in winter is to be conscious of the temperature of its environment.

Windowsill can become 10 to 20 degrees colder than the surrounding air temperature creating a microclimate that is less than ideal.

Using a hygrometer that also measures air temperature is a great way to verify the environmental conditions of your plants.

Most tropical plants will incur damage at temperatures below 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

Ambient warmth supports growth and will keep your plants happy!


Keep Plants Away from Drafts


However, plants can respond negatively to being near an air vent or draft.

Any sudden changes in a plant’s environment such as the opening of an outside door or a warm air vent can cause it to have brown leaves or drop leaves from stress.

Plants can also respond this way if they are moved around from one environment to another.

Consistent, ideal conditions are the key.


Maintaining Indoor Plants in Winter


Good plant hygiene- removing dead and dying leaves and flowers- is important year-round, but it’s critical in the winter.

Decaying debris is a breeding ground for pests and diseases.

Vigilance against pests is important too because they will be looking for a place to spend the winter.

Regular scouting for bugs and disease problems can give you precious time to treat any problems that may arise.

Spider mites are a notorious winter pest for plants that are kept dry in the winter months.

Avoid repotting plants in the winter months as this is best done in early spring.


Keys for How to Care for Indoor Plants in Winter


When learning how to take care of indoor plants in winter, it’s important to remember to increase the amount of light and humidity for your plants because mother nature isn’t providing as much as most tropical plants need.

If your plants are in lower light conditions than at other times of the year, reducing the frequency of watering will enable your plants to get through the winter without root rot or fungus gnats.

Watch them closely for signs of stress so that any care adjustments can be made and soon spring will arrive!

8 thoughts on “How to Take Care of Indoor Plants in Winter”

  1. Thanks for the information! Can’t wait to read through the guide!


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