Gardening Houseplants Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

Are Your Houseplants Suffering from the Winter Blues?

21060106BAre your houseplants looking a paler shade of green than they used to? Do the leaves lean towards the light? Or are they turning yellow and dropping off? Have the plants stopped growing entirely or, if they do grow, are the stems etiolated (extra long and thin)? And are no new flower buds being produced? These are all symptoms your plants are suffering from the winter blues.

You’ve certainly heard of people who suffer from the winter blues, also known as winter depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD). They feel lethargic and depressed during the winter months and studies show this is due to a lack of light. The short, gray days of winter just get them down. And the usual treatment is luminotherapy (light therapy, phototherapy), exposure to bright light. In fact, you can scarcely walk into a drug store without running into a display of (expensive) luminotherapy lamps.

Well, houseplants have much the same problem. They originate in the tropics where days are of equal length and the sun is of similar intensity all year long. When you move them into a temperate climate home, where there are seasons involving short, gray days, they just don’t get as much light as they would really need. And since light is their unique source of energy, they don’t react well.

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Plants are happiest near a window during the winter.

If this is the case with your plants, the most obvious thing to do is to move them closer to the window where light is more abundant. Yep, forget about your carefully planned indoor décor, with plants artfully placed here and there, and plop the plant that seemed so happy in the far corner in July right in front of the window for the winter. Christmas plants, until now playing a starring role in your holiday display in the middle of the living room or dining room, need to be right next to a window. And don’t worry your plants will get sunscald: if you’re living north of the 40th parallel, especially, the sun is so weak during the late fall and winter that damage is unlikely. Even “shade plants” will prefer full winter sun.

If the window is small, shaded by overhanging branches, or faces North, it would be wiser to move the plant to a sunnier window, preferably a south-facing one, even if that means changing rooms.

In spite of their great need for light, do make sure your plant’s leaves don’t actually touch a frozen window, otherwise they will be damaged. Usually keeping just 1 inch (2.5 cm) between the glass and the leaves will be enough to keep the leaves both warm and well-lit.

Luminotherapy for Houseplants

20160106C.jpgOr use artificial lighting to increase light they receive. No, you don’t need to invest in those expensive luminotherapy lamps (although they would work). A simple two-tube shop-type fluorescent light hung above them will do a world of good. You’ll find more information on using artificial light here.

Come March, as days get longer, you can move your plants back to their summer positions… but for the moment, give them all the light you can to chase the winter blues away.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

1 comment on “Are Your Houseplants Suffering from the Winter Blues?

  1. Pingback: Stoic Houseplants Tell No Tales | Laidback Gardener

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