Yes, most houseplants go dormant in winter time, especially in climates that experience less sunlight and colder temperatures. Some exceptions to the phenomena of dormancy are annual plants like most flowers and many carnivorous plants like Venus Flytraps.
Why do houseplants go dormant in winter?
Cooling weather and fewer hours of sunlight are signals to most houseplants that it’s time to slow the growth rate and get ready for the harsh winter environment.
Even if you keep your plants at the optimum temperature of around 65 degrees F, (warmer for some tropical plants), most will still experience a slowing metabolism and eventually go into full dormancy.
Dormancy doesn’t mean that your plant it dead. It simply means that your houseplant is conserving its resources to take advantage of more optimal growth conditions later on.
In other words, it’s resting up for a growth sprint which will begin in the springtime and last until sometime after the Autumnal Equinox. (For those living in the Northern Hemisphere, that is.)
Dormancy isn’t, or I should say, shouldn’t be a problem for most plant lovers.
Except…many plant owners fail to address this naturally occurring state of hibernation, and unintentionally cause harm to their beloved green family members.
There are some simple steps you can take to help your indoor plants survive the winter dormancy and prime them for an exponential growth spurt when spring finally rolls around.
But more on that later.
First, you need to know which of your houseplants is prone to winter dormancy.
What types of indoor houseplants go dormant in winter?
As stated above, most kinds of popular houseplants tend toward dormancy as the first frost approaches.
The exception, also as noted above, are some kinds of carnivorous plants, annuals (which only last one growing season before dying), and some tropical plants (which need to be kept in high-light, warm-temperature, high-humidity environments anyway.)
So, if it’s leafy and green, it’s probably going to go into dormancy.
But, there’s no need to panic.
Indoor Flora is going to guide you through your first winter dormancy and help you to keep your leafy friends healthy and ready to burst back to life when springtime springs again.
So, let’s get your guys ready for a long, relaxing winter’s nap.
How do you keep houseplants alive in the winter?
There are three things that happen in the late fall and early winter that trigger houseplants into dormancy.
- Cooling temperatures
- Diminishing sunlight
- Lower humidity
It’s the combination of these three factors trigger the plant’s hibernation mechanism and tell it to begin slowing its growth rate.
We can take steps to mimic ideal growing conditions artificially, but even then, most plants will still go into substantially slower growth rates if not full dormancy.
How to protect houseplants from cooling temperatures in winter time.
- Move your plants away from drafty windows and walls that are exposed to the outside of the house. Being too close to the exterior walls of your house can frost your plants and make them lose leaves, branches, and roots. Usually, a few feet away from cold windows and walls is enough, provided that you keep the interior temperature at a comfortable level, 65 degrees F.
- Be careful not to move your plants too close to heat sources like radiators or fireplaces. Too much direct heat can dry out leaves and severely damage your plants. I usually move my plants into an interior room and give them a bit of light using grow lamps.
- If you have no choice but to keep your plants near exterior walls or windows, try wrapping the pots with towels or some kind of insulation to keep the roots from freezing.
How to protect houseplants from diminishing sunlight in winter time.
- If you are going to be keeping your houseplants near windows for sunlight, make sure to give your windows a good cleaning to allow as much sunlight through as possible. Remember to keep your plants at least a few feet away from windows at night so they don’t get frosted.
- While you’re at it, give your plants a good cleaning. You can either bring them into the shower and give them a really good misting with a spray bottle. (Don’t turn the shower on, the water flow will be too strong and you’ll lose soil and damage leaves and branches) Or, you can take a damp cloth and wipe away any dust that has accumulated on your houseplant’s leaves. This will make sure your leafy pals are efficiently absorbing the little available sunlight during its winter nap.
- If you use grow lights, simulate the changing sunlight hours for your climate by reducing the amount of time your grow lights are on. I usually reduce my grow light timer by about ½ during the winter. It’s been enough to keep the plants alive while not straining them by making them wake from their hibernation too soon.
How to protect houseplants from lower humidity in winter time.
- Get a humidifier. Spraying with spray bottles is fine in summer time when normal humidity is high, but during the winter it won’t be enough unless you want to spray them every couple of hours. A humidifier will take care of that for you and you’ll only have to check it to refill every few days depending on which model you choose.
If possible, it’s best to move your dormant houseplants into a separate room where you can control all three of these variables.
I move my plants into an interior spare room after Halloween and leave them there usually until after the spring equinox. I put a humidifier, a few grow lights with automatic timers, and seal the windows with plastic to keep the temperature more constant.
This approach has worked incredibly well for me, but controlling the environment is only half the battle.
Dormant houseplants still need a little TLC from dependable plant growers.
How to care for dormant houseplants during winter.
- Dormant plants still need water, but not as much. I recommend watering them on the same schedule you usually keep, once per week, but only give them ½ as much water as usual. Remember to always check with your finger or a wooden dowel first to make sure the soil is dry at least two inches down. If it’s still damp, skip this week’s watering and check again next week.
- You can skip the fertilizer as winter approaches too. I usually give my plants a fertilizer spike the first time the outside temperature breaks 50 degrees F, which is in early March where I live. The nutrients break down and are absorbed into the soil during the weeks while the weather is warming. My plants emerge from their slumber with plenty of good nutrition to feed their appetites after a long winter’s hibernation.
- Make sure to keep a regular misting routine, even if you have a humidifier. Misting will help to keep your dormant plants from picking up pesky spider mites and other pests.
- Before putting your houseplants away for the winter give them a nice treatment of some anti-fungus and anti-pest solution.
Since adopting this routine, I’ve been able to keep my houseplants alive during their dormancy.
What’s even better is that they wake up fully nourished and ready to grow once springtime pops.
I hope these guidelines help you keep your houseplants thriving for many years to come.