The Garden Muse: Winter feeding and care for Houseplants

Published 11:52 am Friday, December 1, 2023

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the Garden Muse

Dawn Conrad

During the fall and winter months when the natural light levels are lower, and temperatures are much cooler, most plants do not need fertilizer or plant food. Under these conditions, the plants are not expending as much energy growing or have gone dormant and do not need the extra nutrients.

The winter months are notorious for being the hardest months out of the year to keep house plants happy and healthy. In addition to the lower natural light levels; shorter days, colder temperatures, and dryer air due to some forms of heating the home all put a strain on houseplants. 

Adjusting your plant care routine is the key to unlocking a successful season of over wintering your plants. 

Your plants do need to be watered during the winter, just not as much or frequently. Because they are experiencing much slower growth, and some may have even gone dormant. Overwatering many plants will cause root rot, so it is very important to make sure you are not overwatering your plants.

Some plants enjoy a gentle misting during the winter months. Ferns, orchids, and bromeliads (plants that thrive in high humidity) enjoy an occasional mist. If you do mist your plants, it is also a good time to give them a cleaning by wiping down the leaves to remove dust. 

I caution that not all plants want to be misted and doing so to the wrong plant could do more harm than good. What the average houseplant likes is a good root soak and time to dry out in-between.

House plants generally do not like to be placed directly near indoor heating sources. Doing so will almost guarantee failure to thrive and/or death. 

If all this sounds like a lot…it’s not. The two most important things to remember If you want to keep your houseplants alive and happy during the winter is 1. be mindful of frequency of watering and 2. plant placement in your home. 

In addition, hold off on the fertilizer until the spring. Give your treasured plants a winter rest and resume fertilizing them in the spring when growing conditions will once again be optimal.

Dawn Conrad is a Retired Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener, Herbalist, Writer and Artist. She can be contacted at