Houseplants in Winter

By Carly Hatfield

Albert Camus said, “In the depths of winter I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” Ohio winters seem to challenge my usually sunny disposition as well as the health of my houseplants. I am determined however to fight the cold Ohio winter until spring arrives. I like to pass the time by caring for my many houseplants. For every window in my house, there is a plant, or two or three.

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During these dormant months, when I cannot escape outdoors to my usual garden refuge, the southwest room of my home becomes the most popular spot in the house. Drinking tea, sorting seeds and sweeping up soil is the remedy for my winter blues. This season is a wonderful time to re-pot any plant that has outgrown its container. The smell of a freshly opened bag of potting soil causes me to reminisce of warmer, sunnier days. To encourage root growth in all directions, I always break up the roots of any plant that is to be transplanted. Whether it is destined for the ground or a container, teasing the roots a bit helps the plant establish itself. The plant will have a better chance of survival as it is able to draw nutrients more readily than if left in a knotted, constricted ball.

Newly transplanted varieties of cacti and succulents

Newly transplanted varieties of cacti and succulents

In winter, I enjoy misting my tropical house plants every day. A humidifier helps with the dry winter air in my home, but I enjoy the daily task of misting. I keep my eyes peeled for pests at this time of year, especially mealy bugs. They seem to show up every year, usually making themselves right at home on my Jade plants. I like to combat them with a mixture of soapy water and alcohol. I use a solution of 2:1, more soapy water than alcohol. I use a 70% isopropyl alcohol and a simple dish soap such as Dawn. I generously apply it via spray bottle to my Jade, Orchids and most anything else that has signs of the little culprits. I never apply this mixture to my more delicate plants such as Ferns, Begonias or African Violets for fear of damaging them. I wait about 30 minutes and then rinse the entire plant off in the shower or sink. This ensures very little residue is left behind and I also have an evenly watered plant to place back on the shelf.

Here is a photo I have borrowed from the website, The Garden Corner. Thankfully, I do not have mealybugs on any of my jade, for now. White clumps of webbing in crevices of leaves is a sure sign that mealybugs have moved in.

Mealybugs on Jade

Mealybugs on Jade

A healthy Jade plant

A healthy Jade plant

I do not like to fertilize my houseplants during the winter for this very reason. Over fertilizing in winter gives an open invitation to many problems that could be detrimental to houseplants, such as chemical burns or pests looking for a food source in this scarce climate. During these winter months, houseplants will not be using up enough of the nutrients as this is not their active growing season. If you find yourself with a plant that is really lacking its luster, I believe it is best to dilute the fertilizer you would normally apply by half. I keep a close eye on my more arid plants, making certain I do not over-water them. I have lost a few cacti and succulents to improper watering practices. It is wise to remember that less sunlight will reach plants during these short winter days. The introduction of LED lighting has helped immensely during this time of year. My houseplants are healthier than ever before. This small investment of supplemental lighting has doubled my success rates when sowing seeds or propagating cuttings.

Jade Cuttings

Jade Cuttings

These chilly months give plenty of time to leaf through books and magazines for inspiration. I dream of the day my variegated Monstera climbs the wall to meet the silver flecked Philodendron reaching out from the shelf up above. If your winter gloom is not easily dismissed, just remember the words of Naturalist Hal Borland: “There are two seasonal diversions that can ease the bite of any winter. One is the January thaw. The other is the seed catalogues.”

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