Winter in the Midwest, and How to Keep Your Plants Alive!

February is upon us! It's everyone's favorite month, right?! It's got Valentine's Day, Lincoln's Birthday, Chinese New Year, President's Day, Groundhog Day, and many more special observances, so it should be a pretty great month, right?

 

                              

 

Well, good luck convincing your plants.

I would be willing to bet that some of you are pretty frustrated with your plants right about now, and I can certainly understand why. This time of year is very difficult for tropical plants living indoors in the Midwest, and here's why:

The inside of our homes are not always a replica of the native tropical environment that our plants thrive in.

Tropical Rainforest
  • There's FAR less humidity in the air
  • The temperatures are typically lower
  • We get several hours LESS light than during the summer months

Now maybe a few of you out there are reading this and thinking, 'Not my plants! They are THRIVING!" and if so- Kudos to you, because that means you've got it figured out, and this post isn't necessarily for you! In fact, it's not at all difficult to keep your plants thriving in the Winter, and that's exactly what this blog post is intended to help you do! So read on...

Front of Vedas Plant Shop 

If you've ever been in the Shop, you probably know that a big focus of ours is providing the proper plant education to our customers- whether its what the species needs as far as light, how much water they like, what kind of light requirements they have- we want you to know these things!

credit: Library of Congress

With a HUGE increase in new plant parents during the pandemic, there are a lot of people that just don't know any better than what they are seeing on the TikTok. We even have customers tell us, "The plant shop I got it at said to keep it wet." So needless to say, there's enough bad information floating around out there! So we try do what we can to help, by offering friendly advice to increase your chances of success with your new plants, or your plants you've had for a while.

silly woman shaking her fiddle leaf fig

 

One of the most important things that we advise people about this time of year, is to INCREASE THE HUMIDITY. During these cold winter months, it's not unheard of for the relative humidity inside an average home to be in the 10 to 20% range. That range is unsuitable for many tropical plants, and will cause numerous issues if not addressed. You've probably felt an electric shock before when touching a metal surface, or turning off the light switch; this is from the air being so dry, and the static electricity build up enough to the point of discharge when contact is made. Believe me when I tell you this- If you keep your home's humidity at 50% or more during the winter months, you will never experience a shock like that inside! And your plants will look and feel MUCH happier.

 

 

The humidity inside your home can be increased by simply purchasing an ultrasonic (or cool mist) humidifier, and using it. We suggest keeping it running at all times, that way the air stays consistently humid. You may need to refill the humidifier every single day, and that's ok. You will see an almost immediate difference in your plants- not to mention less itchy/dry skin, less dry mouth and throat in the mornings, etc.

These plants are TROPICAL, and the humidity of their native environment rarely dips below 50%, ever. That's the minimum level that we recommend for your plants. If you don't think you can provide that, then an alternative may be better. For example, you may consider misting your tropical plants daily, with just a fine mist sprayer, and only enough to really mist into the air, not so much on the leaves. You don't want water to pool on the leaves for any length of time, so as to avoid bacterial or fungal issues. Air flow can help prevent this, by simply putting a fan in the area to move the air regularly.

 

With cooler temperatures, usually come cooler windowsills. And windowsills are usually where we have a lot of our plants, or at least close to them! So this one is a simple fix, right? When the temperature outside drops, pull your plants a bit back from the window. Keep in mind that some of these old Chicago buildings have old, drafty windows, which are also not compatible with tropical plants. Some people cover their drafty windows with winterizing plastic sheets, which usually includes adhesive strips, to attach to the window frame, hence keeping out much of the cold drafts. Another thing you can do, is place seed starting mats under them, which keeps their roots warm, and keeps that growth going. These can be found at garden centers, some plant shops, and even pet stores, where they're sold as under-cage reptile heater mats. I don't typically advise using a space heater, because for one thing, they dry out the air even further, and they can also be dangerous, putting (at the very least) plant in danger of being burned!

 

Diagram of the Earth, and it's axis

 

The shortest day (in regard to daylight) of the year is December 21st, also known as the Winter Solstice. This is when the Earth's poles are tilted farthest away from the sun, causing the shortest amount of light exposure for us. If you learn about the native regions of many of these tropical plants, you'd see that they come from regions like Central America, Indonesia, Malaysia, etc. These areas are all very close to the Equator, which does not ever tilt very far from the sun, meaning the length of light in those areas is very consistent.

The Equator typically has 12 hours of day, and 12 hours of night. We use a similar phrase for grow lights- "12 hours on and 12 hours off". Grow lights have come so far over the past few years; their prices have come down, their quality has increased, and the options are numerous. Purchasing a simple grow bulb or plant light bulb to screw into a desk lamp or floor lamp, is often enough to make a difference to your plants' happiness in the Winter. Just be sure to pair it with a digital timer, or a smart outlet, so it is consistently on for 12 hours each day, and off for 12 hours each night. We wouldn't have much chance at remembering to do it manually every day- there's too much to do! This is going to help replicate the amount of light that these plants have evolved to thrive in, thus increasing their overall health in your home. Another aspect of Light that a lot of people don't think about is this- The amount of light a plant gets is directly related to the amount of water it needs. Many of us are guilty of watering our plants the same amount all year 'round, as we're all creatures of habit, and it's often difficult to change a behavior! But we talk more about watering needs in this blog post here. The point is: that with supplemental plant lighting, this Winter can be far less damaging to your leafy babies in the wintertime!

 

 Anthurium Selby's Silver
To recap, in the winter (at least in a large portion of the northern hemisphere), a few changes should/can be made to ensure your plants' continued health and happiness:
  1. Increase the humidity around your plants
  2. Limit exposure to cold areas and drafts 
  3. Supplement Your Plants' Natural Light with Artificial
 
If you don't make these changes, many of your plants may go into a semi-dormant state, where the growth slows way down (sort of like slow motion, or suspended animation) ,their leaves may turn yellow or brown, and in cases, plants can perish. The behaviors discussed above can help prevent this from happening to your plants, if you use them!
 
This post is a general summary of what you can do, but there are certainly more details that a person can learn. If you spend some time researching it, you can learn a lot about what to do with your plants when the weather changes. As always, we don't recommend much plant advice from TikTok posts, (that doesn't mean there's not any). If you care to learn more, or have a specific question about any of these things discussed in this post, you're welcome to send us a message, contact form, email or text, and we'll do our best to answer your questions! Other sources you can go to for plant info are: Conservatories, Botanical Gardens, Plant Shops, plant-oriented friends who are consistently successful with their own plants, and social media groups and clubs. And remember- There's more than one way to successfully raise plants!

 

Thank you so much for reading!
Hopefully, you took something away from this post that can help you become a better plant parent, or perhaps you learned something new about caring for your plants.
That is always my goal- To share my personal experiences with other plant people, with the hope that it helps someone in some way, either by trying a different way to do things, and getting a different result, or simply by providing a different perspective, so that someone looks at a situation differently and figures out another successful method on their own.
There are multiple ways to grow plants successfully, and sometimes, what is considered successful to one person, may not be to another person. In the big picture, I believe that all of our experiences with plants should be positive, even if one of them dies. If we take that event, learn from it, and do things differently next time, to a better outcome, that's the goal.
A 'learning experience' is the best thing to come out of a 'negative experience'.
There's no doubt about the therapeutic benefits that come from having plants in the home, and both physical and mental health improvements that occur by keeping plants in the home, it would be a shame for it to become so stressful that they actually cause strife. During the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been a lot of people turning to plants as a way to deal with the daily stresses of the world we live in. Some have jumped in so far, so fast, that they are feeling overwhelmed trying to care for them. If this is happening to you, please reach out to me, and I will do everything I can to help you.
As always, if you have had differing or similar experiences, please comment below, and share them, as I always enjoy hearing other's experiences. If you find any information that I posted that is incorrect, or nonfactual, please also comment below or reach out to me directly. These blog posts are written from my personal experiences, as well as experiences others have shared with me, but, as we are human, so it is possible to make mistakes. Just let me know, so that I can correct and learn from them.
Stay Safe & Be Healthy.
-Jeff

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