How to care for house plants in winter

Keep your house plants happy and healthy over winter with these expert tips

house plants in winter dining room
(Image credit: Little Greene)

Knowing how to care for house plants over winter is important as during these months plants' growth rate slows significantly and many enter a dormant state – so  you need to alter your care schedule to keep them happy. 

Unlike outdoor plants that rely on the seasons, indoor plants rely on us to provide the right levels of warmth, light, water and food as well as suitable air conditions. 

Care requirements will vary slightly depending on the type of plant but follow these key steps from the experts and your indoor plants will remain happy and healthy, helping to make your home a green, uplifting oasis packed with winter garden ideas throughout the dull, dark months.

How to care for house plants in winter

Kate Middleton' house plant trend

(Image credit: Future)

Knowing how to care for house plants in winter is just as important as planning a winter garden if you want to ensure that your home is filled with greenery and interest year round. Below, we answer the most-asked questions about winter house plant care.

Cut down on watering house plants in winter

During the winter the growth rate of house plants slows right down so they require far less watering – over-watering during resting season can lead to rot. Watering requirements will vary on plant type, but generally twice a month or even less will be enough. Cacti and succulents may need no watering at all until spring. During the spring and summer, watering is necessary one to three times a week. 

‘I suggest pushing your finger deep into the soil or gauging how much water is in the soil based on the weight of the pot, and only water when needed based on that specific plant’s needs. When you do water, be sure to water thoroughly – the roots need the water,’ says Lindsay Pangborn, gardening expert at Bloomscape.

The soil should be allowed to dry out completely before watering again; a general rule of thumb is to always check the soil moisture with your finger rather and to water as and when the plant requires it.

Lady watering house plants

(Image credit: Getty Images / Carol Yepes)

If your plants have wilting, yellowing leaves this is usually a sign that the plant is being overwatered. It can also be due to a lack of drainage; often house plants are put into decorative pots with no drainage and end up sitting in water which can cause damage.

‘Never keep any house plant in an undrained container unless when you water it you do so and let it drain completely,’ says Monty Don on his Gardener's World programme.

Plants in conservatory

(Image credit: Future / Brent Darby / Styling Pippa Blenkinsop)

Should you feed house plants in winter?

As your house plants are not in growth season over winter there is no need to feed them; doing so could cause problems, warns Lindsay Pangborn of Bloomscape. ‘Plant food at this time can do more harm than good because unused fertilizer can cause salt build-up and root burn or could upset the natural growth cycle of the plant.’

Forcing them to grow  by feeding them during resting season will result in spindly stems and pale-colored leaves.

House plants

(Image credit: Future/Paul Raeside)

Move house plants into the light in winter

One way to care for house plants in winter as the days get shorter and light levels decrease is to move them into a position where they can receive maximum sunlight. However be careful of cold drafts coming from windows. Sensitivity to light will vary depending on the type of plant, and some indoor plants can be damaged from over exposure to direct sunlight, so be sure to research the light requirements for different kinds. 

If your plants were already in a light position, it is still worth noticing how the light changes with the seasons and considering whether the plant would benefit from being repositioned, as Lindsay Pangborn of Bloomscape explains.

‘The light coming into your home will change as the season changes. If your plant was near a window shaded by a tree, the sun's rays may be more intense once the leaves fall off the tree. You may have to move your plant back a bit so the rays do not burn the foliage.

'Also, check out the angle of the sun once the days become shorter – you may need to move some plants to adjust to the changing light levels in your home.’

House plants on shelves

(Image credit: Future / Nick Pope )

Regulate room temperatures

Most house plants do not like fluctuating temperatures and during winter this can be a problem as they will be exposed to warmth from heat sources such as fireplaces and radiators, but will also be susceptible to cold drafts from doors and windows. The key to keeping to them happy is to try and keep temperatures constant. 

‘Be mindful of extremes – flowing air vents, fireplaces or proximity to exterior doors. Plants thrive in a consistent environment, where possible position plants away from areas that fluctuate frequently,’ advises Emily Wight, Co-founder of indoor plant store Foli.

‘Average day temperatures should range from 65-75ºF and at night, no lower than 55ºF,’  explains Lindsay Pangborn, gardening expert, Bloomscape.

Indoor plants in potting shed

(Image credit: Future)

Monitor room humidity to care for house plants in winter

Many house plants like cool, damp conditions; our homes are often too dry and warm for their needs and heating our homes in winter makes conditions even dryer. Keeping the environment humid will really help keep your house plants happy and there are a couple of things you can do to help with this, as the experts explain.

Grouping plants together is an easy way to create a humid microclimate as plants release water vapor as they transpire, which is then trapped by the leafy canopy of plant groupings,’ explains Lindsay Pangborn, gardening expert, Bloomscape. 

House plant on gravel

(Image credit: Getty Images)

‘You can also use a humidifier near your plants or place your plants near a tray of water. The idea is to add moisture to the air, not have your plant sitting in a tray of water.’

Spraying plant leaves regularly with a mister and placing them in a tray packed with pellets, gravel or pebbles and water may also help bring extra moisture.

House plants

(Image credit: Getty)

Keep house plants clean in winter

A buildup of dust on the leaves of house plants can block their pores and can also harbour pests, so it’s important to clean foliage regularly and is particularly important to do during winter. Plus, always remove damaged and diseased leaves as these can harbor diseases or pests.

Clean smooth-leaved plants by first dusting them with a brush and then sponging them with water. Hairy plants or cacti should not be sprayed or washed, instead use a brush. Remove damaged, yellowing leaves by pinching the stems out at the base of the plant. 

‘Insects love to hide out in the dust on the leaves, which makes it hard for you to find them too. Your plant is more vulnerable in the winter because it goes into a state of dormancy, which makes it unable to grow out of insect damage,' says says Lindsay Pangborn, gardening expert, Bloomscape. 'Also, humidity is much lower leading to a perfect breeding ground for spider mites and other pests who thrive in dry air.'

Instagrammed house plants - fiddle leaf fig

(Image credit: Mike Marquez/Unsplash)

Can I repot house plants in winter?

Indoor plants need periodic re-potting to accommodate their growing roots and stop them becoming pot bound. It is advised not to repot house plants in winter during a dormant state. The best time to repot indoor plants is at the beginning of the growing season in March or April. 

house plant

(Image credit: Future)

Pippa is Content Editor on Homes & Gardens online contributing to Period Living and Country Homes & Interiors print issues. A graduate of Art History and formerly Style Editor at Period Living, she is passionate about architecture, creating decorating content, interior styling and writing about craft and historic homes. She enjoys searching out beautiful images and the latest trends to share with the Homes & Gardens audience. A keen gardener, when she’s not writing you’ll find her growing flowers on her village allotment for styling projects.