Horticulturist Tovah Martin lives in a cobbler shop first built in the 1790s, where temperatures indoors never rise above 58 degrees in the winter. But that doesn’t stop her from having a beautiful array of plants.
“When I first moved into this house, I thought begonias and tropicals were a thing of the past for me,” says the author of must-reads “The Indestructible Houseplant” and “The Unexpected Houseplant.” Turns out, most houseplants are hardier than you think, especially when it comes to the cold months. “They’re absolutely fine! They don’t mind it.”
Wondering how to be a better plant parent this winter and beyond? We chatted with the renowned plant expert about how to keep your plants green when the temperatures drop -- and what to do once spring has sprung.
Less Is More In The Winter
First things first: take a cue from the outdoors and chill. Martin says it’s important not to push your plants in the winter months. That means no repotting until the spring. “As a culture we tend to be people that over nurture things,” she says. “We overwater, but we also over-pot: we put them in too large containers and they’re just swimming in a bunch of soil that their roots haven’t filled.” That excess soil tends to get soggy, especially in the winter.
Take A Break From Fertilizing, Too
At least until the weather warms up and there’s more light. That way, you’re giving your plants the R&R they deserve. “The benefits of fertilization [are like the benefits of] food,” Martin says. “Newly repotted plants usually don’t need to be fertilized until they begin to grow into their new containers.” And remember, you’re not repotting yet anyway.
Get To Know Your Plants
We hereby give you permission to name your plants -- and talk to them, too. Martin stresses that creating a relationship with your plant can make all the difference. “I think another word might be ‘sensitivity,’ she says. “That you become sensitive to their needs. It makes it so much easier if there's a dialogue that goes on.”
The best way to start that dialogue? “Whatever it takes to bond,” she says. “Hang with them, admire them, fuss over them, groom them, and pet them.” Roger that.
Don’t Worry About The Windowsills
Have you placed your plants lovingly on a now-drafty window sill? Martin says you don’t need to worry about the chill -- even tropical plants will be OK. “Most plants want and need fluctuations in temperatures between day and night,” she says. “That’s just the way the natural world is built, so they don’t mind it.”
Be Mindful How You Water
When watering your plant, aim for the soil — and only the soil. “I water with a watering can aiming the stream of water at the soil,” Martin says. “I try not to get the foliage wet. Most plants prefer not to have wet foliage.”
And how do you bring plants back around after under or overwatering? “For dried out plants, put the plant in a saucer of water and let it drink from below,” Martin says. If your plant is showing signs of overwatering -- yellow, wilted leaves -- Martin suggests you put the watering can down and let your plant do its thing. “Let the plant dry out between waterings,” she says. Once the top two inches of soil are completely dry, it should be ready for another drink.
While You’re Away, Let Your Plants Keep Each Other Company
Worried about leaving your plants while on vacay? Here’s an easy fix: Cluster your plants together, away from the light -- even sun loving varieties like the jade plant. That way, they won’t dry out as quickly while you’re away. “[That will] keep the humidity up around them,” Martin says. “Other things really don’t work.” That’s right -- no need for a fancy watering globe here, as long as you’re only gone for about a week.
If you’re away for more than a week, Martin has just one suggestion: get a plant sitter to keep an eye on your greenery.
Do Regular Check-Ins
“I think people worry a little bit more than they need to,” Martin says. “You have to really play it by ear. Even though you’re gardening inside, it’s still dependent on nature.”
Her best advice? Be in tune with your plants. The more familiar you are with them, the easier it will be to identify any issues. A distressed plant might express it in a number of ways: leaning toward the light, turning pale, or frequent wilting are all problem signs to look out for. Play with watering and sun exposure until you find the right fit. And have fun!