How to Winterize Your Plant Collection

First things first – there is no reason why a houseplant that thrived in your home during the spring and summer can’t survive the winter.  Most plants won’t grow very much in the winter, and some will go completely dormant and won’t grow at all.  Houseplants are also increasingly susceptible to root rot, pests, and other issues during the winter transition.  You definitely want to take some precautions to help them out a little bit. 

One major thing you need to consider when preparing your houseplants for winter is lighting.  During the summer months the sun is much brighter, and the days are much longer – so during the winter your plants will be receiving less light on two counts.  There are a couple of ways to help with this.  One: move your plants closer to the windows.  This is great but be sure not to move them too close to cold windows as the low temperatures can hurt them more than the increased sun will help them.  Frost is not your friend. 

The second way to create more light is to invest in grow lights.  These don’t have to be ugly or overly expensive, simply buy grow light bulbs and use any lamp that you like – so long as it can handle the appropriate wattage.  One thing I will say about grow lights is that they are VERY bright, sometimes unpleasantly so, so I tend not to use mine unless I really need to. 

Another winter consideration is central heating and drafts.  When I had radiators, I didn’t notice the same issues that I have with my current forced air heating system – the drafts of hot air not only dry out my apartment, they also hurt my plants.  Plants hate drafts – whether those are from a cold window or a heating vent – so be sure to place your houseplants a safe distance from cracked windows and heaters in your home. 

This also ties into humidity.  Here in Toronto, we are spoiled for humidity in the summer.  In fact, during the summer months I often don’t run a humidifier at all – I just open my window to let the natural humidity in, but the winter is very different.  It is cold and dry – meaning I have to run both my heater and my humidifier.  I find investing is a decent humidifier is pretty essential – and it’s good for your own health as well as your plants.  I suggest buying one that fills from the top and has a built-in hygrometer. I keep mine set to 60% throughout the winter; I find if I set it too high I end up having to re-fill the tank too often for my liking, and 60% is enough to keep my plants happy.

You also want to change your watering and fertilising habits in the winter months.  Since your plants will be growing less, they will take up less water.  Water also evaporates less in the colder, darker months, so you will need to cut back on watering.  I suggest buying a moisture meter if you aren’t sure when to water and gradually watering your plants less frequently to ensure you don’t overwater them. 

You also need to cut back on fertiliser.  Your plants use fewer nutrients in the colder months and over fertilising them can lead to burnt leaves and roots.  It is important to cut back on, or sometimes even completely omit, the fertiliser you use. Only fertilize when your plants are growing. 

The final winter consideration is pest control.  Houseplants are very susceptible to pests and illness during changing seasons.  Every fall and spring I take all (yes ALL) of my houseplants, group by group, into my bathtub and wash off all the dust from their leaves before spraying them down thoroughly with a houseplant pesticide.  I always look for one that tackles spider mites, mealy bugs, thrips, and aphids.  I try to use preventative measures like this all year round – but I am especially thorough during the transition to winter. 

The winter will not be the death of your houseplant collection, but you do need to take some extra care and adjust your habits a little.  I also recommend not propagating your plants or re-potting them until spring if you can.  Best of luck and keep cozy!

Dare to be be imperfect

How to Deal with Houseplant Pests

Houseplant pests have become the bane of my existence (dramatic, but also true).  There are days when I stare at now empty pots while I spray wilting and yellowing leaves with pesticides and insecticidal soaps, BEGGING for those little bugs to die instead of my plants.  I have pruned my sad Calathea and sadder Alocasia and have been trying to will them back to life. 

More detailed information about pests and other ailments is available on our troubleshooting page

The best advice I have for defeating plant eating bugs in your home is:

Buy a good pesticide

Now, I know that pesticide isn’t an option for those with curious pets, but it really does work so if you can use it then you should.  Household pesticide use inside the home is completely safe – don’t worry about the bees, they’re outside.  By consistently spraying down your plants with a household pesticide you can easily prevent any outbreaks before they begin.  And if you miss a few treatments and some bugs do find their way into your houseplants, then pesticide is the fastest way to kill them. If you really can’t use pesticide, then try to use a really effective alternative like neem oil diluted with soap and water. 

Be consistent

When you are treating infestations or trying to prevent pests the best thing you can do is treat the plant consistently.  One treatment just isn’t enough.  I would recommend repeating the treatment every other day on an infested plant and every other week for preventative treatment.  I like to treat my plants with some form of pesticide as often as I fertilize during the growing season.        

Isolate

Isolate any and all infected plants from the rest of your collection – and from each-other.  This way pests can’t hop from one plant to another and spread.  It is also a good idea to isolate any new plants you acquire for at least a week to ensure they are pest free before introducing them to your collection.  

Keep up care

Houseplants are always more likely to develop a pest problem when they aren’t receiving optimal care.  By maintaining humidity, light, and water requirements you can more easily ward off any pests. 

Don’t forget the soil

Many pests can lay eggs or hide in the soil of our plants.  It is a good idea to use a substance on the soil to prevent and to kill any bugs that want to live there.  Diatomaceous Earth and Mosquito Bits are both great options. 

Learn when to quit

Sometimes a plant is simply not worth the headache.  I’ve come to understand that there is no shame in putting a plant to rest if you think it won’t recover, or if it simply isn’t worth it to you.  Houseplants are supposed to bring us joy – so if it isn’t anymore then it might be time to say goodbye.  When to part with your plants is a very personal choice, but don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t.