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Winter Care for Indoor Plants

Updated on July 19, 2019
Kenna McHugh profile image

Kenna writes about the care of plants (indoors, outdoors, and in gardens). She wrote an orchid care booklet—a companion piece for workshops.

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Ideal Home for Plants

The temperatures for indoor plants depend on the comfort of the humans living in the house or working in an office. Luckily most plants and people are comfortable at the same temperatures. Humans find the temperature range of 60 -80 degrees comfortable.

These temperatures are similar to the tropical areas where our indoor plants are native. Although some plants can manage at 50 degrees, if it gets below or too high above the comfort zone, they will suffer the consequence.

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Microclimate

Even though the temperature is seldom an issue with our indoor environment, during the winter, we must be aware of the subtle difference in temperatures throughout the indoor areas.

Large rooms, hallways, and different exposures along with the doors and windows can affect the temperature of your “microclimate.” Indoor areas are colder or warmer than other areas in a home or office. Even within a room, some areas are colder or warmer than the rest of the room.

When placing a plant or warming a room, be aware of the different temperatures throughout the indoor area. Keeping an area around 72 degrees is ideal for most indoor plants.

Office buildings sometimes have the temperature turned down on weekends and can cause chilling, which harms the plants.

Drafts

Drafts are a problem for plants as well. Drafts that are too cold or too warm can cause dropping of leaves, flowers, or flower buds. As a rule, plants are prone to be damaged if they end up in the corner where heat gets trapped.

Temperature adversely affects the plants in several ways. If a plant has all the factors needed for maximum growth, but the temperature is too cool, the plant will grow more slowly than it should or cause some noticeable problems.

Cold temperature problems generally show up slowly – unless you are a dracaena, ming aralia, kentia palm, snake plant or aglaonema (silver queen), and even some orchids show signs of being too cold, right away.

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Winter Damage and Injury

In winter, cold damage and chilling injury occur near window sills, especially when plants are behind closed drapes, the temperature of the air around the plant drops rapidly. It is difficult to know if your plants are getting damaged by cold temperatures unbeknownst to you. It is hard to notice at first. Cold damage will surface on a plant as downward curled leaves and mottling--irregular coloring, blotching of the leaves.

Chilling injury occurs when the temperature is as low as 45 degrees. When the outside weather is cold and windy, the window sill temperature gets low enough to cause injury to the plant. Although most plants recover from cold damage, plants exposed to chilling injury will not recover if there is a long exposure to low temperatures.

When the temperature of the glass is below freezing, plant parts actually in contact with the glass, will be frosted. In an extreme case, plants turn gushy yellow or blackish and disintegrate, rot or melt. To make sure your plant is not open to cold damage or chilling injury, you can touch the leaves and feel the cold they bear.

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Winter Season

Office buildings sometimes have the temperature turned down on weekends and can cause chilling.

Since winter comes but once a year, we may only think of cold being a problem during the winter season. We can face heat problems as well. The heat from heating vents or people moving the shades to get as much direct light as possible can cause heat stress. Leaves may turn yellow because glass from the windows magnify the heat and burn the leaves. The tips and edges can become dry, as well as spindly or stop growth. But, winter sun is weak and plants, if positioned correctly, actually like the sun during the winter.

Internal Problem

Keep in mind that leaves exposed to sunlight may be several degrees warmer than the surrounding air. In this instance, the high-temperature problem is internal to the plant. The most common symptom is wilting. If the temperature is high enough, plants growing in moist soil will wilt. It leads to an inexperienced gardener overwatering a plant that wilted because of high temperatures.

Move the Plant

Sometimes the only remedy for the cold and hot problem is simple – move the plant. Find a better location that makes the plant happy.

When plants move to a new home during the winter, it may mean a trip outside. Always cover the plant with a plastic or paper bag and warm up the vehicle before putting the plant in it.

Be Aware of Your Surroundings.

In general, be aware of your plant and its surroundings. If you feel a draft, so does your plant, and take the necessary precautions to keep everyone one happy.

© 2018 Kenna McHugh

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    • Kenna McHugh profile imageAUTHOR

      Kenna McHugh 

      7 months ago from Northern California

      True!

    • Lisabean2202 profile image

      Lisa Bean 

      7 months ago from Nevada

      Thats surprising it showed signs of distress so fast! Goes to show, no one likes to hang in a drafty spot! :)

    • Kenna McHugh profile imageAUTHOR

      Kenna McHugh 

      7 months ago from Northern California

      Hi Lisa, Thank you for visiting. I am always happy to share tips about caring for houseplants. I moved some plants over the holidays to make room for the Christmas tree. My ZZ plant was not happy about it and lost some new growth. I think it was because I had it close to a window where there was a draft. The plant is back at her old location and much happier. ZZ plants are hardy plants, so I was surprised it didn't like it by the window.

    • Lisabean2202 profile image

      Lisa Bean 

      7 months ago from Nevada

      Thanks for sharing lots of good tips. I hadn't considered temperature differences in corners of rooms and we have quite a few plants in the corners of our living room. I also hadn't considered drafts...

    • Kenna McHugh profile imageAUTHOR

      Kenna McHugh 

      15 months ago from Northern California

      Margie Lyn, Thank you for visiting my article. I have found during the winter months my indoor plants love being moved to new spots. Not quite like going outside and getting fresh air, but the change does them good.

    • Margie Lynn profile image

      Margie's Southern Kitchen 

      15 months ago from the USA

      Kenna, I have a lot of indoor plants and about a month before the weather will let me set them outside on my porch they get pretty sad looking. After they stay outside all summer they are beautiful again and ready to go back inside the house for the winter. Thanks for your great article! I am going to try moving them around like you suggested!

    • Kenna McHugh profile imageAUTHOR

      Kenna McHugh 

      18 months ago from Northern California

      Linda, Thank you for visiting my article. I was fortunate to work with some super-horticulturists who were passionate about indoor plants. They taught me a lot, so I want to pass what I learned to others.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      18 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      You've described some important things for people to think about if they want to keep their indoor plants healthy. Thanks for sharing the advice, Kenna.

    • Kenna McHugh profile imageAUTHOR

      Kenna McHugh 

      18 months ago from Northern California

      Thank you for the nice comment. Yes. Moving plants away from sources of trouble is a good idea.

    • Sherry H profile image

      Sherry Haynes 

      18 months ago

      Nice tips, especially for those living in apartments. I always overlooked the fact that direct heat can burn leaves. Moving them often could really help.

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