For the many new plant parents who adopted a fern or fiddle-leaf fig to spruce up their spaces during quarantine, their houseplants’ winter behavior — like shedding leaves or turning brown — may come as a bit of a shock. According to Erin Marino, director of marketing at the Sill, this seasonal change is totally natural. “The biggest thing I’d say is don’t freak out. You are going to see your plants look a little bit less happy, and it’s going to be obvious because you just came out of this wonderful summer growing season,” she says. With reduced sunlight and dry air from indoor heating, winter isn’t a time when your plants will thrive, but, with the right care, they can certainly survive. “Less sunlight typically sparks a plant’s natural dormancy,” says Casey Godlove, creative director at PlantShed. “They use less water, produce less new growth, and generally pause until spring.”
Plant-care pros stress that there are plenty of simple steps you can take to keep your greenery healthy in the winter. In terms of placement, look for spots in your home that get the most sunlight, but avoid putting plants too close to drafty windows or radiators. “Grouping plants together in a cozy ‘cuddle puddle’ is a great way to regulate moisture,” says Bryana Sortino, co-founder of plant subscription service Horti. “Plants transpire and release vapor into the air, so gathering them into a cluster creates more humidity in the air.” Now is also not the time to repot or fertilize your plants. As Rebecca Bullene, partner and co-founder of Greenery Unlimited, explains, “The plant isn’t really going to have the energy to process fertilizer, and you’re going to have a buildup of minerals and salt in the root system that can actually damage the plant.” Instead of watering on a regular schedule like you would in the spring and summer, experts say to look for signs of thirst — like curling or drooping leaves — since your plants won’t be consuming water at the same rate.
We asked our experts to recommend plants that can best handle the changing seasons as well as the best tools and accessories to keep all of your plants happy.
Best winter houseplants
The sansevieria laurentii, or snake plant, which is “nearly indestructible,” according to Godlove, was one of the most recommended low-maintenance winter plants among our experts. Gabby Santiago, plant-care specialist at Rooted, says they’re perfect for plant beginners and can even survive in windowless rooms. “Sansevierias will bear with you while you figure out the sunlight patterns in your place during the dreary winter months,” says Sprout Home founder Tara Heibel. “They are not fussy about being in the perfect lighting scenario and can handle a lower light frequency.” Lisa Muñoz, founder of Leaf and June, explains that snake plants “can withstand drafty windows, heat from heaters and radiators, and less humidity, making them a great plant for the winter months.” Bullene points out that because the snake plant naturally grows in dry climates, it’s especially drought-tolerant, so it won’t be too bothered by dry heat. Chantal Aida Gordon and Ryan Benoit, founders of the Horticult website and authors of How to Window Box, suggest experimenting with other varieties like the sansevieria cylindrica or the sansevieria masoniana. “They’re the funkier cousin to standard snake plants but about as forgiving,” Gordon and Benoit say. “They’re like sculptures.”
Marino groups the ZZ plant, another common houseplant, with the sansevieria since they’re both easy to care for and adaptable to less than ideal conditions. “These plants aren’t going to thrive necessarily during the winter, but they’re going to be able to handle it,” she says. It’s also Tula Plants & Design CEO and founder Christan Summers’s top pick. “It’s the most drought-tolerant plant next to the cacti, and it has this really shiny, waxy leaf, so it always looks happy,” she says. Godlove and Bullene recommend the ZZ plant because it can tolerate low light and infrequent watering. Gordon and Benoit add that the ZZ is “glossy, shapely, and looks cool next to the art on your wall, and it surprises you with new growth pretty often.”
Like the snake and ZZ plants, the pothos came up a lot among our experts since it doesn’t require a lot of direct sunlight. “There’s a reason you see the pothos plant in offices, nail salons, and malls,” Marino says. “It’s incredibly hardy and can handle a wide range of different light levels.” Heibel also loves the plant’s trailing look.
If your home gets a decent amount of sunlight year round but you struggle with dry air, Bullene recommends plants from the dracaena family, which are accustomed to low humidity. “A lot of them are native to Hawaii, and they actually grow on the [very arid] lava fields of volcanoes,” she says.
“You can’t kill them,” says Summers of the very hardy and low-maintenance cast-iron plants. “They have a really elegant leaf shape that I always appreciate in the mix of floppiness.” Muñoz agrees that they’re “extremely easy to maintain” and “acclimate well to drier environments in the winter months.”
Since succulents and cacti are generally known to be low-maintenance plants, we weren’t surprised that many of our experts say they are good options for winter. Marino suggests the pet-safe Haworthia: “They’re found in the desert, where it doesn’t rain a lot and there’s not a lot of humidity, so they’re not going to mind this at all during the winter,” she says. Heibel recommends placing succulents and cacti near any drafty windows since they do require a good amount of sunlight but can tolerate the cold better than tropical, leafy plants like the ZZ or sansevieria.
Also a type of succulent (but not a pet-safe one), the euphorbia milii, or crown of thorns, is another one of Summers’s favorites. “These bloom in February, and it’s always so nice to see something like that in the gray February of New York, especially,” she says. Depending on the variety, you can find them with pink, red, or white flowers.