When Your Houseplants Suffer From the Winter Blues

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Photo: Micaiah Carter, http://www.self.com

Are 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, thin and paler than they should be)? 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.

Move your plants closer to a bright window. Photo: bryansfuel.on.ca

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 sun scald: if you’re living north of the 40th parallel (and that would be Canada, most of Europe and the northern half of the United Stares), 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 larger, 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

An indoor light garden (this one uses LED lights) will keep the blues away from your plants. Photo: http://www.gardeners.com

Or 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. Or one of the newer LED plant lights. 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.

In Winter, Move Houseplants Closer to a Window

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Light is low in the winter, so move your plants closer to the window. Source: Alina Vilchenko, http://www.pexels.com

In fall and winter, houseplants are no longer getting the bright light they’re used to. Days are shorter and, in most climates, grayer. To keep them in top shape, it’s best to move them closer to the window or to a brighter room.

In temperate climates, you don’t have to worry that the leaves will burn due to excess light, even if you place them directly in front of a south-facing window. That may occur in the heat of summer, but not during the dull days of late fall and winter.

Even so, don’t let the leaves touch the window in climates where temperatures outdoors dip below freezing, because they could be damaged.

A very different possibility is to offer your plants supplementary light such as an LED or fluorescent lamp during the fall and winter.

More light in winter, healthier plants? It just makes good sense!