Keeping houseplants alive over winter | Part II

This is the second of a two-part series on the challenges of winter and what I’m doing about them. Read Part 1, covering heat, humidity, light and watering.

Dying leaves

With autumn came a spate of old leaves dying off. From pilea peperomiodes to epipremnum aureum, there seems to be an ongoing cycle of leaf fall around the house.

It can be difficult to be at peace with yellowing and dying leaves – because they can sometimes be a sign of a problem like over-watering and root rot.

But as long as a plant is otherwise healthy, it’s probably nothing to worry too much about.

New leaves, propagation and repotting

Most plants have slowed the putting out of new leaves unless they’re under a grow light, or a type that grows during the winter.

Another change that is very noticeable is the slowing down of the speed of propagation. With more robust – and less valuable – cuttings, I’ve more or less carried on as usual.

Succulent type plants that are propagating sit under grow lights and those that need warmth and humidity are on a basic heat mat with a plastic cloche over the top to encourage root development. I’ve currently cuttings of Rhaphidophora Tetrasperma and a couple of Philodendrons in those warmer, more humid conditions.

The heat mat is especially useful for cooler spaces such as our lean-to, which I use as a plant overflow area.

Succulents and peperomia propagating under a grow light over winter

Finally, many folks recommend that you don’t repot plants over the winter period. Generally I don’t either, but sometimes it’s unavoidable – e.g. if you’ve received some plant mail in the post.

The best thing you can do is give it stable conditions to settle into it’s new home, and recover from the journey and any shock in the change of environment.

This’ll include heat, light, watering and humidity, as covered in my earlier post. You can create stability for cuttings by putting them in a large plastic bag or in a warm spot while they develop roots.

For all plants that you’ve given a new home, make sure they’re away from excessive cold or hot air, and be wary of overwatering them.

Pests

Most annoyingly, our plants seem more susceptible to pest outbreaks at this time of year. I’m currently battling thrips, spider mites and a virus. A couple of plants have been sacrificed to the compost heap because there was no way back for them. 😢

I don’t know enough about botany to understand whether plants do actually suffer more in the winter, or it’s just my experience. I wonder if it’s similar to why we humans also seem to get more colds and flu about now.

In truth I’ve probably also been a lot less vigilant in catching these outbreaks early, because at this time of year I spend a lot less time up close and personal with plants, what with the reduced watering, repotting, propagating and so on.

There’s something to be said for keeping up with checking in on your plants year round!

And finally…

Keeping houseplants over the summer is a fun, exciting sprint. Our collection grew fast, both in number and size during the warmer months of the year.

However when things slow down, it’s a good time for reflection and adjustment. I wrote recently about trying to be more mindful and realistic about the commitments of plant parenthood. It’s not a coincidence I felt this way as winter set in.

I’ve lost a couple of plants over the past few months, which I likely won’t replace anytime soon. That’s in part because I wasn’t particularly wedded to them (saying that, try and wrench my beloved philodendron micans from my hands!)

But I’m also taking it as a sign that my home’s conditions during the winter and the capacity I have to look after those plants, is limited. And it’s ok not to pile on the pressure to keep everything looking unrealistically Instagrammable.

This month marks the two year anniversary of us getting the keys to our first home. We didn’t move in and starting collecting right away, but it probably represents the start of where our journey began.

As we look ahead to 2020 I’m looking forward to settling into a new (and manageable!) balance in our little jungle.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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