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Indoor Plants Weathering the Cold

Updated on November 16, 2018
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.


Humans vs Indoor Plants

The growing temperatures for indoor plants are often determined by the comfort of the humans living in the house and 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 ones found in the tropical areas that most of our indoor plants are native to. Although some plants can manage at 50 degrees, if it gets below or too high above the comfort zone they will suffer the consequence.



In spite of the fact that temperature is seldom an issue with our indoor environment, 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.” Some rooms are cooler or warmer. Even within a room, some areas are cooler or warmer than the rest of the room.

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


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 can get damage if they are stashed in the corner where heat gets trapped.

Temperature affects the plants in several ways. If a plant is given 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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Damage and Injury

In winter, cold damage and chilling injury can occur on window sills, especially when plants are behind closed drapes, the temperature of the air around the plant drops rapidly. It is also difficult to know if your plants are being cold damaged. Plants that have cold damage often have downward curled leaves and/or mottling (irregular coloring, blotching.)

Chilling injury can occur when the temperature is as low as 45 degrees. The outside temperature is very low, and its windy, the window sill temperature can get low enough to cause injury. Although most plants can recover from cold damage, plants exposed to chilling injury will not recover if there is 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.


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. In fact, we can face heat problems as well. 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 can 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 properly, actually enjoy 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. This may lead inexperienced gardeners to overwater a plant wilted due to 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 are moved 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.

© 2018 Kenna McHugh


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    • Kenna McHugh profile imageAUTHOR

      Kenna McHugh 

      7 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 

      7 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 

      10 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 

      10 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 

      10 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 

      10 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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