During the shortest, coolest days of the year, houseplants grow more slowly. Ideally, you want them to grow ‘hard’, with minimal water and food, so they remain neat, compact and healthy until spring. Even those plants that flower in winter, such as Christmas cacti, paperwhite daffodils and amaryllis, do not need much care other than to remove spent flowers. The biggest health threats are overwatering and dramatic temperature changes. Keep them on the dry side and away from radiators, windows and doors, and you should be able to rest easy.
Here’s my ten-point plan for keeping your plants happy from November until February.
- Reduce watering, only giving plants a drink when the compost surface becomes dry. Use your finger to judge how damp the compost is, or invest in a simple moisture gauge. If in doubt, don't water. You can quickly revive a wilting plant, but you can't unwater a saturated pot.
- Don’t allow plants to stand in saucers of water - pour away any excess immediately.
- Stop feeding until March. If your plants look a little lacklustre, use a gentle houseplant care mist to deter pests and boost their health.
- Keep plants away from cold drafts, open doors and hot radiators - they detest them. Central heating creates dry warmth, which can dehydrate foliage causing it to turn brown at the edges. Misting gently with a spritzer once a day will help boost humidity in the air around the plant.
- Remove dead leaves and flowers with sharp snips but be reassured that some leaf loss is natural. When plants enter a period of rest or dormancy, they divest themselves of the parts they no longer need in order to survive. It's often the older, lower leaves that fall first. If new leaves start to drop, you may be overwatering, or the plant might have experienced a temperature shock.
- Maximise the amount of light plants receive by moving them closer to windows and roof lights. Every week, or whenever you remember, turn them 90 degrees so they grow evenly and not in one direction.
- Dust leaves often so that they’re able to photosynthesise efficiently. Use a leaf-cleaning brush or the inside of a banana skin to gently wipe the surface, leaving it shiny and ready to catch some rays.
- Our warm homes are a haven for pests when its cold outside. Keep an eye out for pests that multiply quickly, such as aphids and fungus gnats. Take care of ladybirds that are notorious for crowding into window frames for protection. They'll be your friends come spring!
- Avoid buying new plants when it's cold or it's been cold. If you can’t resist, don’t allow them to catch a chill on their way home and ask for them to be fully wrapped or boxed to insulate them. Never buy houseplants that have been displayed outside in the cold; the damage will have been done long before you take them into your care.
- Start cyclamen, amaryllis, hyacinths and daffodils into growth for flowers at Christmas and early in the New Year. Grow them somewhere cool and light to prevent them from getting too tall and falling over.