Do your plants have the winter blues?
Your plants were gorgeous all year long, with shiny, healthy leaves and lots of steady growth. Lately, though, they’re looking a little sad—yellow leaves popping up, other leaves dropping without warning, and any new growth withering and turning brown.
Sound familiar? It’s a common problem for houseplant lovers in winter. Days are shorter and temperatures colder, and your plants are reacting to the change in seasons. Winter can produce especially dramatic changes in tropical and desert plants, so it’s important to know how to care for your plants during the coldest part of the year.
The first step is to check for root-binding or nutrient-depleted soil. While plants don’t grow much or at all in winter, the period of dormancy actually makes it the best time to re-pot your plants. Since most of the metabolic processes are slowed or shut down, even the most fussy or delicate plant will experience less transplant shock during and after the transfer. Plus, re-potting now will get your plant ready for spectacular growth the minute spring roles around.
So how do you know if you should re-pot your plants? Here’s a quick checklist:
Is your plant still in the plastic nursery pot, with the original soil? If yes, you need to re-pot. Even if you bought the plant recently, the soil could be months old and nutrient-depleted. Most chemical fertilizers only last for a few months, and after the plant has consumed the fertilizer, it can starve to death. Depending on the health of the plant, this can happen seemingly overnight.
Is your plant in non-organic soil? If you’re unsure, we recommend changing the soil for an organic, well-draining potting mix as soon as possible. Organic soil, unlike a chemically-treated mix like Miracle-Gro, contains biological matter that continues to feed the plant a slow, steady diet of nutrients over a longer period. Organic soil can also be boosted by regular additions of a microbial inoculant, which adds beneficial bacteria back into the soil and restarts the nutrient-creating processes.
Does the water run out immediately, or does the soil never stay damp, even if you water properly? This could mean one of two things: the roots are taking up most of the pot, so there is insufficient soil to hold the water, or the soil is devoid of nutrients and can’t retain it. Either way, this is bad news for your moisture-loving tropical plants; they’re happiest with a slightly damp-to-the-touch (but never wet or muddy) potting medium.
Has the new growth yellowed, shriveled or fallen off? This often signals a plant no longer has enough food to sustain any new growth, so it sheds everything non-essential.
Other tips for winter plant care:
Take plants out of the windows. This might seem counterintuitive, but the cold from outside can do more harm than the little bit of winter light they get. Moving plants off the sill and onto a table even a few inches away can save them from nasty temperature shock.
Water less. Since your plants won’t be growing, they also won’t be consuming much moisture, meaning your regular watering schedule might actually turn into over-watering in the winter. Many cactus and succulents should only be watered every 3-5 weeks in the winter, and soil should be very dry before watering again. Tropical houseplants should be watered enough to maintain slight dampness in the soil, which can vary between once a week and once every week and a half. The best way to check? Stick a finger into the soil up to the last knuckle to check moisture. Tip: use a siphon watering peg to make sure you never over- or under-water again.
Buy plant lights for medium to high light plants. Aside from the parlor variety, most palms need plenty of light all year round. Many other popular houseplants, including the Croton, Dracaena Marginata, Schefflera and Bird of Paradise, need to be within six feet of a window, or supplemented with plant-friendly lights 6-8 hours a day. Buy plant lights.