By Karen Darlow
In winter, house plants take on extra importance, adding life, color, and stress-reducing, air-purifying qualities. Winter house plants offer a connection with the outside world and a symbol of continuing growth when the garden has entered its dormant phase. Looking at green spaces calms the mind and soothes the soul – that’s true of indoor green spaces, as well as those outdoors.
So calling all gardeners and indoor plant lovers – prepare to exercise those green fingers in the off-season, with garden ideas perfect for colder weather: the best winter house plants.
Best winter house plants
Below we've listed the best winter house plants. Once you’ve chosen your personal favorites, you'll need the specifics on how to care for house plants in winter to ensure you get the best from them – and to ensure they last right through to next winter.
1. Cyclamen persicum
Often the best winter plants for pots and borders outdoors make the best winter house plants, too. Cyclamen can look stunning grouped together for impact and to create a mini indoor garden scene.
All types and colors of cyclamen in shades of red, pink and white – are great options for winter. Cyclamen thrives in cooler temperatures, says Karen Musgrave, a certified nursery and landscape professional at Hicks Nurseries in Westbury, NY. She recommends placing potted cyclamen ‘near a drafty window or entryway to add a nice burst of color to your space – they require indirect sunlight and well-drained soil.’
2. Dwarf citrus
We've listed citrus plants on our pick of the best indoor trees, and although you might associate them with summer, dwarf citrus plants – including lemon, small oranges and tiny kumquats – are not only top of the tree when it comes to adding a little zest to interior schemes, but they are certainly among the best winter houseplants for culinary – and mixology – use.
Move dwarf citrus outside in summer, but bring them indoors for winter, preferably in a room with a slightly cooler than average indoor daytime temperatures, ideally 65ºF (18ºC).
3. Phalaenopsis orchid
Orchids are classic and seasonal choices to bring your indoor winterscape to life. Jessica Matteson, principal of Connecticut and New York-based Matteson Landscape Architecture, says: ‘My number one houseplant for the winter is the beautiful and undemanding white phalaenopsis orchid. It is sophisticated, low maintenance, happy with only medium light and lasts for months.’
4. Galanthus nivalis (snowdrops)
If you are planning a winter garden, it's likely you're thinking of snowdrops. And guess what? They can be grown indoors too. Forced bulbs of all kinds are another of Jessica Matteson’s choices for best winter house plants. Indoor grown spring bulbs – including snowdrops (pictured), miniature narcissi, muscari grape hyacinths, and hyacinths – all make it on to our list of best winter house plants. They bring a welcome foretaste of spring and are guaranteed to lift the spirits on dreary winter days.
Forced bulbs are readily available in nurseries from late autumn right through to spring. Keep them cool or they may grow tall and leggy, particularly the miniature narcissi and hyacinths. Of course, you can plant up bulbs yourself to force for indoor winter flowering. The best time to do this is September or early October for flowers in January.
These hardy house plants come in many shapes and forms, all of which are happy in both bright, direct sunlight or deep shade. This makes them the perfect plant for winter as they won't need moving to a brighter spot when light levels drop.
Alice Bailey, co-founder of Forest which designed a show garden for the House Plant Studio at the 2021 RHS Chelsea Flower Show, puts them among her best winter houseplant choices, and says: 'Their thick and fibrous leaves are often slightly curved meaning they can tolerate a strong draft because the surface area exposed to the draught is minimal. These factors, paired with the fact they need very minimal watering, make them an extremely easy house guest over the winter period.’
6. Zamioculcas zamiifolia
Karen Musgrave from Hicks Nurseries recommends the stoic Zamioculcas zamiifolia, or ZZ plant, for forgetful gardeners or those who like to travel, and says it's a great houseplant for winter. 'Winter can be cold and dark but the ZZ plant couldn’t care less! This plant tolerates less than optimal conditions and requires little more than well-drained soil and fertilizer every six months.'
Aspidistra was certainly one of the best winter houseplants as far as the Victorians were concerned and Alice Bailey at Forest explains why it makes the cut for her too, 'As houseplants go, Aspidistra has to be one of the most forgiving out there. It’s even been given the common name “cast iron plant” due to its hardiness in the face of almost any environment.
'You can place them in a spot with minimal natural light thats cold and has a strong draft and it will plough on. Aspidistra elatior is the hardiest variety and has been known to live for up to 50 years, even in poor conditions. As long as it’s being fed over spring and summer this plant should continue to thrive throughout the colder seasons.'
8. Dracaena marginate
Easy to care for during the wintertime, and relatively slow growing, The Dracaena Marginata is practically indestructible as it’s so drought-tolerant, so consider it one of the easier plants to care for during the cold months (as well as all year round).
Dan Bruce, owner and main buyer at Leafy Plants, says 'Dracaena marginate, more commonly known as the dragon tree, is a beautiful plant with striking leaves that in certain lights can look like red-edged swords. Originating from Madagascar, its long body/trunk looks more like a small tree than a traditional ‘foliage’ everywhere’ type plant.'
9. Anthurium andraeanum
Karen Musgrave of Hicks Nurseries says: 'Anthurium andraeanum always makes me think of Valentine’s Day with its bright red heart-shaped flowers, and it's a great option for those new to house plants.'
The plant prefers medium sunlight and moist, well-drained soil. The waxy 'flowers' are in fact spathes, bright leaves to attract insects in the plant's natural habitat. There are common varieties with white, pink, or red flowers, but many other shades too. The blooms can last up to three months and appear up to six times per year.
Alice Bailey at Forest puts Epipremnum on her list of best winter houseplants, saying 'they are a great winter trailer to have in the home. Their tolerance of deep shade is matched by few other houseplants, and the dark and waxy foliage of the aureum variety, aka money plant, means they can tolerate the dry air coming from central heating and draughts without crisping.'
11. Ficus elastica (Rubber plant)
Dan Bruce at Leafy Plants explains: 'The name of the rubber plant doesn’t in fact come from its leaves which do have a rubber look to them due to the thick and glossy look they produce, but from the white substance running through its steams which was at one time used to make rubber. It’s always easy to see why people mistake them for fake plants, as in our experience they always look incredibly healthy, even during the winter months.'
Tolerant to winter’s low light in the home, it’s a fan of humid locations in the home, though won’t need that environment 24/7. Because of its thick foliage, it can survive a drop in temperature very well, so is a great plant to have around the house during the colder months.
12. Schlumbergera truncate (Christmas cactus)
Emilly Fernandes, a small space gardener from California and consultant at HouseGrail, says, 'Christmas Cactus makes me think of the holiday season, which I love. There are a few colors you can choose from: red, white, yellow, orange, purple and pink. I prefer the red ones because they're bright and colorful.
The Christmas cactus needs bright direct or indirect light. It does best with a daytime temperature around 70 and an evening temperature around 65. They like a humid environment.
13. Aloe Vera
Dan Bruce at Leafy Plants is a big fan of Aloe Vera plants. 'The gel that grows inside this littles guys leaves is used for everything, from skincare products to cleaning items, health drinks to supplements. These slow growing, stemless succulents have thick, fleshy, grey-green leaves with serrated edges. In UK homes they don’t need an overabundance of water and can survive drops in temperature, making them ideal for the winter months,' he says.
'They’ll still need bright light but placed next to an east-facing window will guarantee them the perfect amount of morning sunshine. And though we’re yet to experience it, with the right care during winter, the Aloe Vera has been known to flower,' he adds.
14. Dracaena trifasciata (snake plant)
Lindsey Hyland at Urban Organic Yield says Dracaena trifasciata, or the snake plant is one of the easiest and best winter houseplants.
'It's a succulent and so can be left alone for long periods and will not die,' she says. 'Snake plants tolerate neglect and low light levels (no artificial light). The plant produces offsets very readily and propagates itself by sending out shoots that can be cut off and potted up.'
There are more than 450 varieties of Philodendron, but Lindsey Hyland says, 'They are popular houseplants because they're universal, have an easy-going attitude, and can be used in any situation. They do not need to be watered often, but the soil should dry out between watering.'
What are the benefits of winter houseplants?
The benefits of growing house plants are well documented, especially in winter. There have been many studies that have demonstrated links between having plants around us in an indoor setting and improved mood and productivity, and reduced stress levels. Think of it as forest bathing in the comfort of your own home, if you will.
House plants are said to bring physical benefits, too. Reduced blood pressure, fatigue and headaches have been recorded where plants have been introduced, and they are also thought to help purify the air in your home.
Where to position winter house plants?
The best winter houseplants deserve their place in the sun and Dan Bruce at Leafy Plants says we should move things around a bit and change up our plant interior design in winter.
‘I know you probably love your fern sitting on the bookshelf,’ he says, ‘but it’s vital that you move them into areas of the home that get the best light throughout the winter days. Place them nearer windows so they can receive as much morning light as possible (though remember not too close, as houseplants aren’t the biggest fans of cold drafts).’
I'm the homes editor of Period Living magazine and an experienced writer on interiors and gardens. I've also moved house quite a few times – totting up 10 homes in 12 years during a particularly nomadic time in my life. I like to think that makes me quite the homes expert, or at least very experienced and with a clear idea of what I like and don't like in a home.
I love visiting and writing about old houses for Homes & Gardens' sister magazine Period Living and working with photographers to capture all kinds of historic properties. It's inspiring to talk to people about their traditional homes and to hear the stories behind their furnishing and decorating choices. And by the time I've finished an interview with a homeowner I've always got a handful of new ideas to try in my own house, as well as plenty of good stories for the magazine. It's the perfect work-life balance.
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