When the weather is sunny during the first few months of the year in San Diego, it’s hard to remember it’s winter time. Yes, even in Southern California. The days are getting longer again but we have several more weeks to go before we are getting a full, healthy dose of sunlight and the days even out into spring.
During these winter months, your houseplants are taking a nap. Like many other creatures, they slow down and “hibernate” during the winter. Living creatures including plants evolved to conserve their energy when resources are scarce due to the natural cycle of the seasons in winter. There is less sun and food to go around, right at the time it’s needed to defend against cold weather.
So plants and animals learn to ride out the winter by doing what many of us do best. They go to sleep.
It’s important to respect and follow these natural cycles for the health of your plants, even your indoor houseplants. After four decades of experience caring for indoor plants, our horticultural technicians at Good Earth Plant Company know a thing or two about giving indoor plants the best care. Here are our tips to make your plants thrive through the winter months.
First, do NOT feed your plants during the winter months. Don’t give them any nutrients until springtime. Would you want to wake up a bear and force a sandwich on him while he is hibernating? No! We aren’t saying a plant will bite you, but we hope the image gets the point across. Your plants aren’t hungry right now. Wait until they wake up.
But DO keep watering your plants. Less is more during the winter, so reduce the amount and frequency of watering. Many of the most popular houseplants will drown and develop root rot if you water them the same way you do in the summer. While they are resting, they aren’t consuming and processing much water. Nearly all houseplants don’t like overly moist soil in the winter. It’s like wearing cold wet socks around all day. There’s another image we hope sticks with you. In the winter let your plants get a little drier between waterings.
One thing you can do for your plants during the winter is to wash them. Give your plants a gentle wiping down with a mild soap (Ivory Soap is good) of their leaves, both top and bottom. Old socks over your hands like cleaning mitts work well. Leaves can collect a lot of dust that doesn’t always show. But when your plants are covered in dust, they can’t gather sunlight because the dust acts like a sunscreen. Plants require light for the photosynthesis process that creates their “food.” So when it’s spring and the sunlight returns, your dusty plants won’t be getting the food they need to put on their springtime burst of growth.
While you are washing off your plants, it’s a great time to check them for pests and bugs. If you are watering too much, chances are good you might have mealy bug or worse – the dreaded fungus gnats. Read our popular blog post about treating fungus gnats.
Are you using tap water or treated water on your houseplants? Water treated with chlorine or salt will create salt build up in the soil of your plants. If the soil gets too salty, it will become toxic to your plants. If you’ve been collecting some of our generous dose of rainwater (and I hope you have!), wait until the arrival of spring in late March, and then give your plants a thorough soaking with rainwater, then let them drain well to leach out the accumulated salts. If you don’t have rainwater, as long as you thoroughly rinse out the soil it won’t matter too much. You can bring them into the shower one by one and then let them drain for a while before returning them to their usual spot in the house. It’s a good idea to do this once in the late fall too before the plants go dormant again.
If you think San Diego doesn’t have “real” seasons, think again. They may be harder to see, but you can learn the signs of a change in seasons. Your plants aren’t fooled, they know it’s winter. They are deeply connected to the rhythms of nature and even the most subtle changes in weather and light as the earth circles around the sun affect them. You can help them weather the winter and they will reward you with robust growth and good health in the months to come.