Ask a Question forum: How do you keep indoor plants warm during the winter in the Northeastern region?

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Name: Danica Boutte
East Coast
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DanicaBoutte
Oct 11, 2013 10:16 PM CST
Hello to everyone and thank you to those who have taken out the time to welcome this newbie into your wonderful world here at All Things Plants.

I've recently decided that, at age 44, I'm finally mature enough to own houseplants without them dying an untimely and horrific death so for the past 6 months or so I've been slowly but surely adding plants to each room and I'm really excited with how lovely they all look so far.

However...I live in the North East in zone 6b and my Maidenhair Fern is already showing signs of malcontent as are my African Violets. I just transferred the Maidenhair Fern to a terrarium sitting on moist rocks to give it the humidity it craves but I'm concerned that it needs to feel warm and well, that may not be possible easily as I have a skin condition which doesn't react well to forced heat.

That said, I'd love any tips and advice regarding how to keep them warm during the winter so my plants and I can co-exist peacefully.

Thank you in advance for your help. You all have already been such an amazing help to me through your archives.

Sincerely,

Danica
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Name: woofie
NE WA (Zone 5a)
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woofie
Oct 12, 2013 9:42 AM CST
You could use heat mats, although you'd need to protect the surface they're on. They do come in various sizes. They're what I use in my greenhouse, rather than trying to heat the whole structure. These are the ones I use:
http://www.amazon.com/Hydrofarm-MT10006--19-1-2-Inch-Seedlin...
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Name: Danica Boutte
East Coast
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DanicaBoutte
Oct 12, 2013 2:25 PM CST
Thank you for that suggestion. Any thoughts on lights?
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Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Oct 15, 2013 11:58 AM CST
Florescent lights are much more efficient than incandescent, The "pretzel-shaped" compact fluorescent bulbs that screw into standard fixtures are more convenient for house plants than 4 foot "shop lights".

However, if you want to keep the plants warmer without heating the whole house, maybe an incandescent bulb would work.

However, that will also dry out ferns and African Violets something fierce.

Winter indoors in the NE is DRY. The cold air outside is dry becuase it's cold. Then when that air filters into a warm house, it becomes extremely dry. Ferns and African Violets don't like "dry". I would suggest spritzing the ferns several times per day, but I don't know if leaves of African Violets would like having water standing on them.

The trick with heat and humidity is keeping them where you want them! Heated air especially will just float up and away, so that you're warming your ceiling, not your plants.

You can buy a 2'x2' square of drywall ("gypsum board") from Home Depot for $5, and that will direct ALL the heat from a heat pad straight upwards towards pots or into your terrarium.

However, keeping heat "down" and near the plants seems to require a tent, like from clear plastic film. Maybe a dry-cleaning bag?

Your terrarium is a great idea for maintaining humidity . I assume you keep a layer of gravel wet. But I would expect it to allow heated air to rise and escape, perhaps caryying away too much humidity as it rose.

If you love fiddling with gadgets, there are low-pressure misters for 70 cents that can run off the water pressure in your pipes. One of those near a plant would keep it (and that whole room) much less dry, or even comfortably humid for humans. That might make your skin happier, too, if the whole house became less dry! Then maybe you could also keep it warmer.

But you would have to run 1/4" tubing from a faucet to each plant. And if someone tripped over it and unplugged it, the jet of water that comes out of 1/4" tubing at 30-40 PSI will soak an entire room in seconds!

http://www.dripworks.com/product/MM

If you have enough mass of foliage in one spot, and the plants are warm enough to be growing and metabolizing happily, they will transpire enough humidity to keep their immediate area somewhat less dry. Grouping may plants into one spot may let them tolerate a dry atmosphere better than being spread out over many rooms.

Or you could find some tough plants with lots of foliage, keep them well-watered, and surround your delicate flowers with a lot of foliage.

(Four foot shop lights are ideal for starting seedlings indoors in winter and spring, if you plan to get into that.)
Name: Rick R.
near Minneapolis, MN zone 4a
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Sages The WITWIT Badge Garden Photography Region: Minnesota Plant Identifier
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Leftwood
Oct 15, 2013 1:48 PM CST
How cold is "cold"?

My African violets live in 55-65F all winter. They are very happy. But change one environmental factor, and chances are you will need to adapt another, too. In this case, watering. Keep them (and all houseplants that find themselves growing in cooler temps) in drier soils. Although the African violets don't grow much, the individual flowers seem to last forever!
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Oct 15, 2013 1:57 PM CST
>> Keep them (and all houseplants that find themselves growing in cooler temps) in drier soils.

I didn't know that. I take back what I said about using well-watered plants with lots of foliage to keep the humidity high near more delicate plants.
Name: Rick R.
near Minneapolis, MN zone 4a
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Sages The WITWIT Badge Garden Photography Region: Minnesota Plant Identifier
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Leftwood
Oct 15, 2013 5:05 PM CST
As with every plant in the entire WORLD, all do best when not overwatered or underwatered. Unless winter is a particular plant's season of growth, it's only normal that their use of water will lessen with lower temps, because chemical reaction rates slow, resulting in less need for water, nutrients, air. (This, given that other factors remain the same.) However, one may find that if relative humidity is drastically reduced, evapotranspiration by the plant and especially direct evaporation from the soil surface increases, somewhat offsetting an expected winter watering regime. This is something each person will learn for themselves in their respective home environments.

Grouping plants together to increase humidity is an entirely different matter. That's a good thing. But no, you certainly wouldn't want to keep the soil watered anymore than at warmer temps. For tropical, semitropical and houseplants, cooler temps favor the growth of pathogens that cause root rot, hence it is safer to let cooler soils go drier, between waterings, than in warmer temps.
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Oct 15, 2013 6:55 PM CST
>> However, one may find that if relative humidity is drastically reduced, evapotranspiration by the plant and especially direct evaporation from the soil surface increases, somewhat offsetting an expected winter watering regime.

I probably should have said "not letting the soil dry out completely in the dry indoor air".

>> For tropical, semitropical and houseplants, cooler temps favor the growth of pathogens that cause root rot, hence it is safer to let cooler soils go drier, between waterings, than in warmer temps.

Thanks for pointing out that plants over-wintering indoors are doing everything slower than they would have outdoors and also will be healthier with drier soil.
Name: Tiffany
Opp, AL (Zone 8b)
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purpleinopp
Oct 16, 2013 9:07 AM CST
Leftwood said:As with every plant in the entire WORLD, all do best when not overwatered or underwatered. Unless winter is a particular plant's season of growth, it's only normal that their use of water will lessen with lower temps, because chemical reaction rates slow, resulting in less need for water, nutrients, air. (This, given that other factors remain the same.) However, one may find that if relative humidity is drastically reduced, evapotranspiration by the plant and especially direct evaporation from the soil surface increases, somewhat offsetting an expected winter watering regime. This is something each person will learn for themselves in their respective home environments.

Grouping plants together to increase humidity is an entirely different matter. That's a good thing. But no, you certainly wouldn't want to keep the soil watered anymore than at warmer temps. For tropical, semitropical and houseplants, cooler temps favor the growth of pathogens that cause root rot, hence it is safer to let cooler soils go drier, between waterings, than in warmer temps.


This has been my experience also. When it's cold at night, our house can get as low as 50 some nights, but is usually between 55-60 by morning, most days, warming more as the sun helps and the temp outside isn't so much lower. Some plants really shine during this time, just stayin' alive when it's 90+.

African violets are considered more finicky than the average house plant, and maidenhair ferns aren't a common house plant at all, though I'm sure it's possible to keep one as such. I don't know if one kept inside would still go dormant like one outside, or not. If that's just what it does, that's probably what your plant is doing. Unless you're in an arctic zone, that is probably hardy outside, if you have an outside area in the ground for gardening. Being able to put plants outside for summer can help those that really do prefer hot, humid weather. AV's are often an exception for growers though, touting they don't need it, prefer to not be disturbed, and/or are too likely to acquire pests.

Common house plants are such for a reason, they don't mind being in houses, and can handle the fluctuations in temp and humidity, light, within a wide range. Do you like the look of snake plant (Sansevieria,) heart-leaf Philodendron, Pothos (Epiprimnum,) Aglaonema (which come in a wide assortment of leaf designs and colors,) parlor palm, Thanksgiving cactus, ZZ plant? These are ubiquitous indoor sights because they cope with it well. These are just a few of so many plants that don't mind being inside most houses. Trying to coddle fussy/sensitive plants, which don't cope well with conditions I have at the time, has almost always lead to disappointment. It's more rewarding to me to stick with plants that can be reasonably expected to survive the conditions I have.

Being honest about the amount of light is usually the biggest hurdle. For example, would you be happy to just keep a plant alive that you just got hoping it would bloom? Probably not. So if you aren't in love with the leaves of jasmine, and don't have a great window for one so it gets enough sun to make flowers, can't put it outside for summer, you'll likely be disappointed, feel like you're failing. OTOH, a simple wax Begonia might bloom its' head off all winter in the same spot. Having reasonable goals, and not killing with kindness by watering plants that aren't thirsty yet, is the plan I try to have. Plants do die sometimes, under the best of care and intentions. That just means you have room for a new one. If you pick those that aren't challenged by the conditions you have, that should be a rare occurrence.
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