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How to Keep your Rare Plants alive This Winter

Updated: Mar 11, 2023

As a new plant parent, your first winter can certainly seem daunting for your rare plants! The winter months typically tend to be the shortest and colder, both of which are not ideal for your plants. To help prevent any winter plant deaths, I've curated a bunch of tips and tricks to help you keep your houseplants happy and healthy throughout the gloomy months!

5 Best Techniques for Keeping Your Rare Plants Alive

1. Give your rare plants lots of Light!

One of the first but least popular tips for keeping your rare plants alive over winter is to adjust their position in your home in order to give them as much light as possible.

Although many of you may dislike the idea of repositioning your rare plants around your house, moving your plants into areas where they will receive more light is key to keeping them happy and growing. This is particularly important for rare plants in lower light areas of your house, as they will now receive even less light than they did in the summer and so the plant will not be able able to photosynthesise and support new growth to the same extent.

Despite a lot of rare plants being able to survive in lower light (and being marketed as ideal for these conditions), many actually prefer and will thrive better with more light and will continue to grow if you move them into lighter areas of your home.

If you’re unsure of how to assess the lighting in different areas of your house, there are many great apps on the market currently that you can use to measure the light levels! For example, the Lux Light Meter Pro (or the free version) are both ranked highly on the App Store (although I have not tried these myself).

Hoya polyneura on a shelf
Hoya polyneura

Figure 1: My Hoya polyneura producing new winter growth after being moved to the window sill.

2. keep your houseplants warm

The winter months in the UK are much colder than the summer and temperatures range from 15 degrees (if we’re lucky) down to 0 on really cold days and even below negative temperatures at night.

Most rare plants are native to tropical regions in Asia, South America and Australia and are not adapted to surviving in temperatures lower than 15 degrees on average. Despite some (such as Hoya) having adapted to be able to survive cold temperatures at night, most of these tropical plants will struggle to grow and thrive in temperatures lower than 15 degrees Celsius.

Subjecting your rare plant to long periods in the cold can even result in cold shock or frostbite. For those not familiar with cold shock symptoms, the plant will often be wilting and drooping considerably as if it were very thirsty. There may also be some discolouration on the leaves such as black around the edges of the leaves or black, red or yellow marks on the leaves where the cells have died in the case of frostbite.

Rhaphidophora tetrrasperma leaf with frostbite
Rhaphidophora tetrrasperma leaf

Figure 2: An example of frostbite on a Rhaphidophora Tetrasperma leaf.

3. Water your rare plants less

Adjusting your watering routine is one of the most important tips for preventing you from killing your rare plants over the winter months.

Due to the lack of light that your house plants will receive in the winter, their growth will slow down considerably in comparison to the summer months. Due to the plant growing at a much slower rate, the amount of water that they need is also reduced (it’s a bit like how people need less food when they are less physically active). Additionally, a colder house temperature also means that the plant’s soil will dry out much slower than in the summer.

So why is it important to cut back on our watering? If you continue with the same watering routine as in the summer, you will find that your rare plant is receiving far more water than it currently needs and that the soil will be staying much too wet for too long. This will result in the roots being drowned by water due to the lack of oxygen in the soil (as plant roots respire too) which ultimately leads to the dreaded root rot!

To avoid rotting your rare plants during the winter, I'd recommend cutting back on your watering to around half although this will vary considerably depending on how warm your home is and the plant in question!

A more accurate way of watering your rare plants is to check the soil wetness with your finger to see if your plant needs watering. Depending on your plant, some like to be watered when the top inch of the soil is dry (Alocasia, Ferns, Calathea) while other like to be watered when they have nearly dried out completely (Epipremnum, Philodendron, Monstera) so knowing when your plant needs to be watered is also key to not overwatering.

Syngonium podophyllum albo variegate being watered
Syngonium podophyllum albo

Figure 3: My Syngonium podophyllum albo variegata being watered.

4. keep your rare plants in humid conditions

A final factor to adjust in your home to keep your plants happy and healthy over winter is your humidity. Tropical houseplants will almost often thrive in more humid conditions with 60% humidity recommended for best growth, however most rare plants will still grow happily in regular household humidity levels of 40%-60%.

Your household humidity levels can change considerably in the winter as your heating dries out the air and can take humidity levels down to 10-20%. These low levels of humidity can be far too low for some rare plants that need more humid conditions, in particular ferns and calathea. You may notice more crisping on the leaves of your rare plants which is a normal indicator that your houseplant isn't receiving enough humidity.

There are a couple of methods that you can use to increase the humidity for your rare plants. The easiest method is to invest in a humidifier that can regulate the room’s humidity levels and increase the humidity when needed, such as the Elechomes Ultrasonic Humidifier 6L (which I use and would highly recommend).

However, if investing in a humidifier is not a suitable option for you then there are a few others that you can try. One is grouping your more humidity-dependant rare plants together as this will help to boost the humidity around them as plants release water as water vapour when they respire. Alternatively, you can hang out your wet washing in the same room as your rare plants and this will act as a natural humidifier!

5. Check your rare plants for pests

Lastly, I would highly recommend checking your rare plants more for pests during the winter. To the annoyance of most of us, these nasty little critters love to creep into our homes during the winter and thrive in our plants in the warmth. It is often thought that as we have our windows/doors open far less in the colder months, it is far less likely for pests to reach our plants. Sadly this is not quite the case though, as they can still often be brought in on our clothing, pets or even crawl through tiny cracks in our windows and walls.

Check frequently for mealy bugs (fluffy white bugs), scale (hard-shelled round bugs), thrips (little fast-moving black bugs) and spider mites (white or black dots on the underside of the leaves) as it’s much easier to deal with an infestation in its early stages than a big one later down the road.

Calathea warscewiczii yellowing leaf
Calathea warscewiczii leaf

Figure 4: A yellowing leaf on my Calathea warscewiczii.

Keep your rare plants alive this winter with these 4 tips

Overall, generally, your plant’s growth speed will slow down a considerable amount due to receiving less light and warmth but you should start to notice an increase in their growth speed again when Spring comes!

It’s fairly common for your bulb plants to go dormant like Alocasia, which means they may stop growing altogether, but be patient and keep providing lots of light and water for them to avoid them dying back completely. It’s also fairly common for your rare plants to drop their lowest leaf or two during the winter but don’t panic! This is very natural for plants so feel free to snip any yellow leaves off.

Having issues with any of your houseplants this winter? Feel free to get in touch and I'll help you out! -

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