House plant care during winter

Martyn Cox

Houseplants plod along happily for much of the year, but when winter descends a lethal cocktail of central heating, chilly draughts and lower light levels will soon take its toll on their health. Martyn Cox advises on how to keep them alive (and looking good) over the months ahead.

Where to put them

Lower light levels outside mean its darker inside the house, and many plants struggle to get enough light. The answer: give them as much as possible by moving to a bright windowsill or to a position close to one - a sill in front of double glazed windows would be ideal, but if you don't have any, avoid putting plants directly in front of a draughty pane as this will damage the plant. As they often come from tropical climates, most houseplants like to be kept warm over winter, but don't be tempted to put them on a sill or shelf above a radiator - they'll quickly shrivel up and die.


While you're moving houseplants to a new home, take the opportunity to give them a quick clean. During the year dust and grime can build up on leaves, which look unsightly, prevents what little light there is reaching the plant and can inhibit healthy growth. Plants with thick or glossy leaves can be spruced up with a gentle wipe with a damp cloth, while those with more delicate foliage, such as ferns, can be perked up with a quick spritz from a hand held sprayer. 


Most houseplants don't need as much water over winter, so cut back and allow the compost to become almost dry before you give them more - too much at the bottom of the pot can cause roots to rot. Once a week should be enough for most and you can let the compost almost dry out before giving them more. You can either be guided by the plant or test by pushing your finger into the compost to see how damp it is. Cacti and succulents prefer an even more brutal regime and are quite happy with a light watering every month or so.


To keep your houseplants looking good, snip off any dead, damaged or dying leaves and remove any fading flowers. The main pest to look out for is mealy bug, which is often found under leaves and looks like little patches of white fluff. As long as plants are not infested, it's easy to control by squashing with your fingers or wiping off with a damp cotton bud.

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The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.