Gardening Houseplants

Plants Rest in Winter; Gardeners Should Too!

Last summer, I wanted to add some houseplants to my (small) collection. But as is often the case, I ran out of time. Work, family responsibilities, gardening! All good reasons not to carry out our projects. On top of that, I’m a landscaper, so I work a lot from spring to winter.

Never mind, you say, winter is coming, the gardens will soon be closed. Then, after all, you have time to buy new houseplants. The catch is that winter is the worst time to do it.

I can hear you all booing!

Yes, I know you’re disappointed, just like me. Now that I’ve ruined your lives, let me explain why. It comes down to three things: low light, dry air and cold.

Greenhouse with plants
There isn’t as much light in our homes as in this greenhouse. Photo: Eva Bronzini.

The Great Darkness

On the summer solstice in Quebec, we get about 15 hours and 30 minutes of sunshine. I imagine that the situation is similar in Canada, the United States and Europe, where many of our readers live. On the winter solstice, there are only 8.5 hours left! That’s a huge difference! That’s almost half as much. Your houseplants find it very difficult to adapt, but at least they can get used to the situation gradually. This is not the case for plants adopted in winter, which cannot help but be traumatized by the contrast.

If you buy a plant that has grown in a greenhouse, with artificial lighting that works 12 to 18 hours a day to accelerate its growth, and it suddenly finds itself near a north-facing window with 8 hours of sunlight, it’ll definitely take a hit! It’s a bit like going from a vacation on the beach in a tropical country to a Canadian half-basement in the middle of January: it’s depressing!

I’m exaggerating just a little for dramatic effect. Sure, you can add artificial lighting and put your plants in front of the sunniest window. And you should do all of these things… but for the plants you already have. As for plants you adopt in winter, in the best-case scenario, they would leave the ideal environment of a greenhouse and go into the adequate environment of your home. They’ll still have a tough go at it.

Indoor plants in a greenhouse
This croton has been moved to a sunnier location for the winter. Photo: Mathieu Hodgson.

Northern Desert

Depending on the temperature, the air may contain more or less moisture. Cold air contains less moisture, warm air more. As cold air enters your home and warms, the relative humidity drops. Let’s say you start with a 1-liter (30 oz) bottle filled with 500 ml (15 oz) of water. As the air warms, its capacity to hold water vapor increases. In this case, our 1-liter bottle has become a 2-liter (60 oz) bottle, but still only has 500 ml (15 oz) of water. The relative humidity started out at 50% and is now 25%. I know this is a simplistic explanation, but it quickly illustrates why the humidity in our homes is so low in the winter. So the greater the difference between the outside and inside temperatures, the lower the relative humidity.

Graph showing increase in water holding capacity with increased temperature
The warmer the air, the more water it can hold. Image: GregBenson.

It goes without saying that when a plant leaves a rainforest-like greenhouse and finds itself in our desertic homes, it might get a case of cotton mouth! You can use a humidifier, but is it enough? I have three humidifiers in my house to try to keep the humidity at 50%. In the middle of winter, during the coldest months, I sometimes have to refill them every day. Inevitably, I forget to fill them occasionally, or I leave for a few days and they run dry.

I make do with a humidity level of between 30 and 50%, which, by the way, is very comfortable for humans. It’s also quite tolerable, in general, for your houseplants. The problem is, again, the sudden change. If you buy a houseplant in the summer, when the humidity is higher in your home, and the humidity drops, it will have a chance to gradually adapt.

Plant in a cardboard box and a roll of sticky paper
Sealing a plant in a cardboard box already offers good protection against the cold. Photo: &

Cold Wave

No, our houseplants that are used to their environment do not suffer from the cold in our homes; in general, they like the same temperatures as we do. The problem is transportation. As soon as the temperature drops below 50°F (10°C), there is a risk that a tropical plant will catch cold. That’s why it’s best to bring your houseplants in before it starts to get cold, late summer or early autumn, depending on where you live.

But what happens when it’s below zero (-18°C)? After all, you come out of the garden center, walk a few steps to find yourself in a heated car, that’s not so bad. Not so bad for you, but it can kill your plant, murderer! If you buy plants in winter, make sure you wrap your latest arrival very well. Specialty stores will know how. But if you buy them from a big-box store, they probably won’t have what it takes to properly protect your plants. Online plant stores, on the other hand, have gotten much better over the years and offer packaging designed for winter transport, even going so far as to use heat packs.

Small succulents in stoneware pots
Maybe I could still start a succulent collection this winter… Photo:

Do as I Say, Not as I Do

Imaginez maintenant l’effet combiné d’air sec, de faible humidité et de choc thermique. Ça peut très bien sonner le glas de votre plante. Ma suggestion est donc de remettre l’achat de plantes d’intérieur au printemps, à l’été ou au début de l’automne.

I have to be honest with you, though: I’ll probably buy a few houseplants this winter, anyway. They’ll contribute to my mental health, that’s my excuse. It’s not ideal, I know, but I’ll take every precaution, I swear! No tropical jungle, just a few new ones to liven up our frigid winter!

I had thought of starting a collection of succulents and cacti. These are plants that live very well in arid environments as long as they have very good lighting. They’re not unhappy in a temperate climate like our homes provide them either.

In winter, plants rest, both indoors and outdoors. Let them. They reduce their growth in response to their environment. This is perfectly normal. Perhaps we gardeners (especially the laidback ones!) should follow their example and take a well-deserved break this winter.

7 comments on “Plants Rest in Winter; Gardeners Should Too!

  1. I am a neighbor though I am in zone 5b NH. I struggle with the same issues. I propagate my houseplants (mostly succulents) year-round rather than buying new ones in winter. If they survive, fine; if not, oh well.

    Last year I went to extraordinary measures to keep alive a beautiful maidenhair fern through winter – watering, misting, humidifier- the whole bit. It survived (barely) yeah, I agree like you. I have seen a lot of articles about how sweet they are and how wonderful they are and how it’s so unfair that they have this maligned reputation and I supposed to but also like I said, I have read that dachshunds are the nastiest of them all Shar-Pei they can be aggressive. Interesting. I have heard that I have heard that dalmatians. I have heard that they are not the Disney creatures that yeah remember Moe yo yeah with strider I do I do yeah they are they can be pretty please yeah but I think that’s true. You know so many of them and an awful lot depends on training, but there are there are some you know reading hereditary characteristics that they can all have, but these are dogs, or they have been bred for thousands of years to be exactly what they are , and that’s why it was important to me to get her from a breeder. I mean when I got haiku I didn’t know that much about it but I wanted I did my research and from what I read about the breeds that was what I want, so I went to a breeder I wasn’t going to try and find one that you know a pet, safe, pet shop or whatever and none he worked out so well and then I started looking around and I know I just had some questions so I decided to go back to what’s your name is you were the one who told me to go back to her and ask was well I have been looking. I have been looking in before I could die because I knew it was coming and I was looking and I was looking at multis rescues, and a lot of the Maltese rescues were of course older, and had no teeth and what not because people hadn’t taken proper care of them and everything but when I finally made the move and you pushed me into it I was really excited about it but again she was not cheap but getting getting a really healthy dog was critical to me you know I didn’t care about show dog quality which she is actually but to me, it was so it was the health and the temperament and the personality that was important well, and they were a boy anymore. Well they weren’t she was breeding quote but not for show anymore and they were they were she was breeding to keep the line a lot but for her it was that the line that was really important which I find a little strange, but I mean, whatever you think, happens to be here in that yes she does that to me shoot if I put my head down she’s scratching in my hair combing my hair for me. She loves it when you get your face down there sometimes they can only take so much and starts to hurt a ECP chancel call CB Chanto Causey be chancing with Meaghan yeah good girl but I think I got a gym. That’s your hi5 two hands that little pom-pom tail wagging back-and-forth is it is it’s perfect. I know it’s perfect for me though. Do you know what it’s just more than ever now? Oh yes I give you love you still ready so funny because she’s scared to death of Baxter and Beth this guy he’s all over us. Well that’s exactly it that’s factual calm down. SEAN will get it all down yet sometime and I want it I I did too I have a feeling him this one might be a little rambunctious with that stupid Baxter so bad but in fact, he might get excited to but but he’s not exactly he’s yeah he will. I still haven’t heard bouchon. I asked him about the apartment business and I shut that off flashlight , but I gave it away to a friend with a greenhouse rather than do it again.

    This year I’m devoted to a giant T-Rex Begonia Ruby Slippers that sat on a stone bench all summer. I haven’t turned on a dedicated humidifier yet, though the house is dry as a bone. I am using your Dad’s ersatz terrarium technique -a huge plastic bag. So far, IT SEEMS TO BE WORKING! I am so excited. It may not be pretty to look at indoors with a bag over its head, but I will be thrilled to get it out into the garden next year and I’m not constantly filling humidifiers.

    Is an a huge fan of Laidback Gardener. Please keep up the good work.

  2. I know it’s true, and thank you for the reminder. It’s so hard to resist buying a new plant when wandering around the garden centre just to smell the green and feel the humidity! I’ll try to resist at least until March…

  3. Yes it is probably the worst time to buy plants but I can’t help myself as it so helps get through the seemingly long short dark days of winter.

  4. I was a big houseplant person before I had a yard. Now, taking a full break from caring for plants all winter is wonderful! My wife has some succulents, but I just relax and plan next year’s garden instead of watering and monitoring.

  5. Great advice as aways. I certainly look forward and enjoy the daily Laidback Gardener posts in my email every single day. Hopefully they inspire some to take up the love and hobby of houseplants. Common sense of course is the best trait, however it is aquired, if not having it naturally. My wife and i are blessed with 2 green thumbs each and as in anything, experience is the best teacher. We have as many plants as we can squeeze into our life and home. Most go out to the garden or porch and back inside for winter. I like the mention of the mental contenment because it is true. Thank you for Laidback Gardener

  6. Love it! Great advice and pictures, from the contrast, bundling, lighting, to resting! ??

  7. Good morning. I enjoyed reading your post. Your croton in the photo is absolutely beautiful. it makes me want to go out and buy one, but I guess I’d better wait until spring!

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