The Manscape: Keeping Indoor Plants alive over Winter

Winter is coming and if, like me, you’ve just spent much of spring and summer transforming your home into an indoor jungle, now’s a good time to start planning for the winter. The last thing you need is your plant catching the dreaded man flu.

Everyone’s home and climate is different. If you live in tropical or subtropical regions, winter plant care is not as important a consideration but if you live in temperate climes, like we do in Melbourne, and are growing tropical plants – most indoor plants – you’ll need to give them a little more support over winter to ensure they can cope with the cold. Here’s a set of principles we consider at Loose Leaf when tending to our indoor jungle over winter.

The indoor jungle at Loose Leaf in Melbourne

Lower light conditions
Generally in winter light conditions indoors can decrease significantly. Shorter days and the lower arc of the sun can mean rooms that are filled with light during summer can become devoid of it during winter. Heading into winter it’s good to observe how the light conditions change in your space. At home I have identified winter and summer locations for my plants based on light availability. For example, my fiddle leaf fig (Ficus lyrata, a light loving plant) lives in a bright east facing room during summer. But in winter it takes a vacation into a north facing window spot in my lounge room, where it enjoys a good couple of hours of winter sunlight everyday.

Cooler temperatures
If like me you live in an older style house, some rooms might feel the cold more than others. As many plants recommended for interior use naturally grow in warmer regions, it’s important to remember that a lot of these plants don’t tolerate temperatures below 15ºC. Take stock of the plants in your collection and identify the ones that naturally come from warmer or tropical climates. Then identify winter locations that will provide a more comfortable home for your plants. For example, north-facing rooms often get a little more light and experience slightly warmer day time temperatures during winter.

Cold drafts
In addition to overall cooler temperatures it’s important to watch for cold drafts. There’s a good chance that spaces next to an external facing door will experience gusts of cold air each time the door is open. A lot of plants, particularly tropical ones like the fiddle leaf fig, do not like to be reminded they now live in a cooler region and do not take kindly to these cool drafts. Remember to identify and consider these zones when finding your plant’s winter vacation spot.

Turning up the heat
As the weather cools down we tend to turn the heat up in our homes. As you reach for the split system air conditioning remote control it’s good to consider how this change in room temperature and humidity might affect you plants. For example, in heated rooms a larger amount of water can be lost through transpiration from the leaves of your plants and evaporation from the potting mix.

Observe how switching on you heater changes the conditions in your space and consider how your plants might need to adjust to this new, artificial atmosphere. The increased temperatures can change the amount of water a plant requires, so it’s good to monitor how the plant reacts and change your care and watering habits accordingly. The other thing to consider when switching on the heaters is air humidity; heaters tend to make the air drier. Treat plants like ferns, which enjoy a little moisture in the air, to a light misting to ensure you counter the effects of a drier room.

Finally, like cool drafts it’s important to identify warmer jets of air. Make sure you don’t place plants directly in front of a heater’s airflow.

Generally speaking, a lot – though not all – indoor plants experience their active growing period during spring and summer. It’s important to check individual varieties to see when they experience their active growing period. During that time a plant requires more life-giving water to feed its leaves or flowers. But when resting, the plant can often survive on much less water. So if, like me, you have a lot of plants that experience enormous growth and need lots of water during spring and summer, it’s important to decrease the frequency of watering through the winter months. For example, my Tillandsia collection gets watered much less frequently in winter. I like to use lukewarm water, and dunk them in the morning to take advantage of the light-filled, warmer hours during which the plant can absorb the water and avoid catching a plant cold.

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to plant care. Every indoor environment is different and it’s virtually impossible give general advice relevant to all spaces. The most important tool you have is observation.

There are so many factors that influence indoor plant life – from seasonal changes, to the care you can give, the climate you live in, and the plant’s particular growing requirements. I like to consider every plant individually and monitor how it’s doing daily to ensure none of the members of my indoor jungle catch the dreaded man flu.

Charlie Lawler is the owner of Loose Leaf – a botanical design studio and plant shop in Collingwood, Melbourne.

The indoor jungle at Loose Leaf in Melbourne