By Kelly Manning for Martha Stewart™
Winter’s harsh elements can be taxing on our plants—even those we keep indoors. To prevent damaging (or worse, killing) your houseplants this season, we outlined the most commonly made mistakes to avoid, complete with insight from a garden expert.
No matter the time of year, overwatering your plants can cause significant damage, including root rot. This, however, becomes particularly problematic in the winter. “People are used to a regular watering cadence during the spring and summer, when plants are actively growing,” explains Joyce Mast, an expert with Bloomscape. “But in the winter, plants go into a more dormant state. They are not regularly producing new leaves, or flower buds, so they don’t require as much water.” Sticking your fingers in the soil in order to get a sense of the moisture level is a tried-and-true method for determining whether or not your varieties are thirsty. “You’re able to bring most plants back from underwatering, but once the roots start to rot from excess water, it’s very difficult to remedy,” notes Mast.
Persistent Dry Air
Between a loss of moisture in the environment and streams of warm air pumping from heating vents, a perpetual lack of humidity leaves plants dehydrated during the colder months. Increase indoor moisture levels by placing a water-filled pebble tray underneath a pot or group several plants around a tray of water. Alternatively, set up a humidifier in your space, which provides a constant flow of moisture into the air. For an added bonus, regularly spritz leaves with water, which, says Mast, is a “nice way to maintain a regular interaction with your plants” during the winter, when they require less care. However, this should not replace any of our suggested steps for increasing humidity, as mist from a spray bottle quickly evaporates.
Letting Your Plants Collect Dust
It’s not uncommon to notice an increase in your home’s dust level during the winter and, in turn, a build-up of grime on leaves. This is the result of a sealed indoor environment and heating vents, which blow around the accumulated particles. Clean these green parts with a damp paper towel or cloth regularly, as insects, such as spider mites, can easily hide in the dust.
Situating Plants Close to Heating Vents and Windows
Be careful not to place your plants in a direct, or indirect, line of warm air, which will quickly dry them out. Similarly, when they are situated too close to a fireplace, such as on the mantel, they can also become too dry too fast. Be cognizant of cold air drafts as well, which “can shock the plant and damage leaf tissue,” adds Mast.
Continuing to Use Fertilizer
Our houseplants enter into a state of dormancy during the winter, which means they don’t require fertilizer like they do in the spring or summer. Therefore, any extra nutrients will not be absorbed and instead “sit in the soil and damage the roots,” says Mast.
Overlooking a Change in Light Levels
Not all plants like direct sunlight. While you may have found the perfect spot to situate a pot during the spring and summer, it’s important to survey the lighting conditions now that trees are bare of leaves. If your variety is receiving too much sun, move it to a shadier spot in your home.