The Houseplant Mistake Everyone Makes When The Weather Gets Chilly

mbg Sustainability Editor By Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability Editor
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care."

Image by BONNINSTUDIO / Stocksy

When I reached out to Puneet Sabharwal, the CEO and co-founder of plant subscription company Horti, about common mistakes that plant parents make leading into winter, I thought I had an idea what his answer would be. Surely overwatering since plants don't need as much water once the sun gets less strong, right?

Wrong! According to Sabharwal, the biggest thing to consider in the colder months is actually your plant's placement.

What's the best spot to put your plant in the winter?

"There are two common spots where plants struggle the most in the winter: drafty cold windows and above or close to radiators or heaters," he explains. First up: Make sure your windows are airtight and your plant's leaves aren't touching the cold glass. And since radiators dry out the air and extract moisture from plants (if you notice leaves starting to wilt and brown, this could be the culprit), you'll want to move your greenery away from the heat source if possible. If not, just mist them every few days with water and a spray bottle. Grouping plants close together is another quick way to boost the humidity of the surrounding air (plus, it looks cute).

It's also important to remember that sun sits at a lower angle in the sky during colder months and is usually obstructed by clouds. "Sunlight is scarce during this time of year, but your plants still need it," Sabharwal says. Placing your plants closer to south- and west-facing windows, which tend to get the most direct sunlight, might be a good move until the return of long, sunny days. "It also helps to rotate your pots occasionally so all sides of the plant get enough light," he adds.

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Once you find a cozy new home for your plant pal, here are some more top tips to keep it thriving all winter long:

1. Keep your home on the warm, humid side.

According to Sabharwal, most plants thrive at temperatures between 65 and 75°F and 50% humidity. As we head into winter, make your home's surroundings feel more like a greenhouse by turning up the heat (in an eco-friendly way, of course) and consider getting a humidifier. Beyond keeping your plants happy, the moisture may save you some dry skin, nosebleeds, and respiratory irritation this season.

2. Loosen up your watering schedule.

"Plants grow at a slower rate during the colder months, and overwatering is a main cause of houseplant health issues, especially in winter," Sabharwal says. The Horti team recommends sticking your fingers 1 to 2 inches below the soil to tell if your plant is thirsty. If the soil is super dry, it could use a watering. "And always use room-temperature water as you don’t want to shock the roots," he adds.

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3. Dust off your greenery's leaves.

"Dust builds up on your plants' leaves, which can make it harder for them to absorb enough light in the short winter days," Sabharwal explains. Work your plants into your home-cleaning routine and clear off their leaves with a damp cloth every few weeks. "While you're at it, clean those dusty windows, too, so that light can shine through them!"

4. Choose new plants wisely.

Like humans, some plant varieties are better equipped for winter's cold temps. So if you're in the market for a new plant pal that can thrive through the season, Sabharwal recommends ZZ and snake plants if you have low to medium light in your home and succulents if you have more direct sun. All of these are drought-tolerant and can withstand the season's varied conditions.

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To recap, these are the most important things to do with your houseplants as the weather turns:

  • Position them so they aren't right on top of humidifiers or touching drafty windows.
  • Make sure that they aren't drying out by boosting your home's humidity.
  • Help them face more direct sunlight (seek out south- and west-facing windows if you have 'em).
  • Dust off their leaves once or twice a month.

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