Skip to main content

Do houseplants go dormant during the winter? What you need to know

Every year we watch plants outside go dormant. The trees change color, drop their leaves, and we’re left with what appear to be dying forests blanketed in snow. But come spring, without fail, green buds start to pop up all over the place—almost as if the plants have come back to life. Winter dormancy is part of the natural order, and houseplants are no exception.

Houseplants may not go fully dormant, but they’ll most often show signs of winter dormancy as the temperatures start to cool and the days have less light. You’ll be able to tell this is happening when growth starts to slow and your plants begin dropping some leaves. But don’t worry! They’re still alive, storing their energy and needing a bit of love and care.

Related Videos
A person holding up a potted rhaphidophora tetrasperma

What’s the purpose of winter dormancy?

From April to August, plants are blooming and growing leaves like there’s no tomorrow. This is what’s known as the growing season, which, believe it or not, isn’t just a season for outdoor gardens. Like outdoor garden beds, indoor plants thrive during these months because of the warmer temperatures and longer daylight hours. There’s more time to photosynthesize, so they can produce more energy to put toward growing bigger leaves and stronger stems.

All these factors, when we look at them from the opposite end of the spectrum, are why plants experience winter dormancy. The shorter daylight hours and colder temperatures mean there’s less time during the day to photosynthesize, so plants have to use what little stored energy they have to focus on surviving the cold instead of putting out new growth. This is why you’ll often see fewer leaves being produced and weaker ones dropping off. The plant is trying to keep itself as healthy as possible, and it relies on you for a good chunk of that care.

Usually, you don’t need to do anything to get plants to go dormant. It’s part of a natural process that happens when the world cools and there isn’t as much sun. All you need to do is let things happen naturally while maintaining a new winter care routine.

How to care for dormant houseplants

Caring for dormant houseplants isn’t all that different from caring for them during the growing season. The general guideline is to simply do less of it (which, as plant lovers, we know to be difficult because let’s face it, tending to our plants brings an immense level of joy into our lives); however, there are some things you’ll want to add in or stop doing to give them the happiest winter possible.

  1. Water less often. Because plants aren’t growing as fast, they aren’t using up as much water. It’s recommended that during the winter months, you test the soil with your finger to see how moist it is. Water only when at least the top two inches are dry.
  2. Maintain humidity. Most plants love some level of humidity, and they hate drying out during the winter. You can help maintain a good humidity level by either getting a humidifier or grouping your plants together to create a microclimate.
  3. Move them away from drafts. Winter care may mean relocating your plants if your windows are drafty. They don’t like the cold, and any air coming in through cracks in the windows will potentially shock your houseplants. Ideally, they should be in an area between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, even in the colder months.
  4. Don’t fertilize. Plants aren’t using as many nutrients in the winter and likely won’t use up the fertilizer you give them. The excess will sit in the soil and throw off the natural balance. It’s best to only fertilize during the active growing season, as fertilizing outside of it can hurt more than help.
  5. Dust off the leaves. Because growth has slowed, houseplants in winter accumulate lots of dust on the leaves. The dust and dirt is, unfortunately, a perfect breeding ground for pests and diseases. Dust them off gently and regularly with a damp cloth to keep them clean and healthy. You should also be trimming off any dead or dying leaves.

It can take a bit for houseplants to fully come out of winter dormancy once spring arrives. To help them along, make sure they’re in an ideal growing environment and give them a small bit of fertilizer to get them started.

Golden pothos growing in a white jar

Common houseplants that go dormant

If you’ve noticed slow growth during the colder months with a lot of your houseplants, chances are they’re experiencing some level of winter dormancy. Plants that go through this phase should be cared for, not discarded, as the full growth you know and love will return once the weather starts to warm up.

Having one or more of these houseplants in your collection will let you see what winter dormancy looks like versus periods of stress and help to give you an idea of when a plant is too far gone as opposed to when it’s going through a natural cycle:

  • Marble queen pothos
  • Chinese evergreen
  • Philodendron
  • Aloe vera
  • Snake plant
  • Fiddle leaf fig
  • Monstera deliciosa

And this is just the beginning. Whether it’s slow growth or leaf drop, most houseplants will experience some level of winter dormancy because that’s just the natural order of things. Be mindful of your plant care routine in the winter, and you’ll have no trouble keeping your plant babies alive through to the next growing season.

Editors' Recommendations

How much water do your houseplants need? Here’s a guide to houseplant water needs
Tips for giving your houseplants the right amount of water
A person watering their houseplant

Tending to houseplants can be quite different from tending to garden beds. If you aren’t used to any form of container growing, you may be wondering, “How much water does a plant need to grow?” Since plants outside are also exposed to weather conditions and other environmental factors, they have slightly different care needs than plants grown indoors. Read on to learn more about houseplant water needs.

How often should you water your houseplants?
Your plant’s water requirements will vary depending on the type of plant it is, so it’s important to research each plant you have to make sure you’re giving it the best care possible. Although no two plants are the same, there are some general things to keep in mind no matter the type of plant. Unlike outdoor gardening, it’s wise not to water on a specific schedule. Instead, check your plants every day or two to see how they’re doing. You’ll find that different plants will need to be watered on different days, and some may not need to be watered every week.

Read more
Wondering how much light orchids need? We have your answers
Here's how to decide where to place your orchid in your home
Pink orchid blooms

Orchids are unique flowering houseplants that are highly sought after by indoor gardeners for their delicate blooms and arching stems. There are roughly 30,000 different species of orchids, but each one can be characterized by the three-petal blooms that grow from the branches; however, they can be a bit tricky to get to bloom. Some people only experience the foliage, and although orchids water well; plant owners may not remember how important proper lighting is to get flowers to grow. Orchid light needs are a bit bigger than most, so let’s get into it.

How much light does an orchid need indoors?
Orchids thrive on strong lighting indoors, which means you need to find a space that isn’t dark for a majority of the day. Because orchids value such strong light levels, it’s important to make sure they have a consistent amount each day when grown indoors. You want to pick a location that has the same amount of day and night, day in and day out, aside from the gradual change of the seasons and the unpredictable cloudy days.
What kind of light does an orchid require?
So what kind of light is strong light? It’s bright, full sunlight; however, orchids don’t like a lot of heat, so you want to avoid areas that get direct afternoon sun (think all the windows in your home that shine the brightest come lunchtime — those are bad for orchids). At a minimum, you want your orchid to get 5 to 6 hours of sunlight per day, but you may still want to avoid directly placing your orchid on windowsills so that the intense light can’t burn the leaves.
Do orchids do well in low light?
Unfortunately, no. An orchid kept in low lighting won’t thrive, and you may start to see the leaves darken and wilt over time because they aren’t receiving enough sun to keep the plant’s energy levels up. If your orchid is in a lower light environment, it’s best to either move it to where it can receive more sunlight or buy a grow light to keep it under so that it can get what it needs.

Read more
Ponytail palm care: Your complete guide for this popular houseplant
From lighting to watering, here's what you need to know about ponytail palm care
Hand holding ponytail palm in pot

Casually browse lists of houseplants that are nearly impossible to kill, and you’ll probably find the ponytail palm next to your hardy pothos and philodendron plants. Featuring arching leaves and an onion-like base, the ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) is a plant that’s as easy to find as it is to maintain. If you come across the ponytail palm at a grocery store or nursery, there’s no need to think twice about picking it up. Here’s a handy ponytail palm care guide to help you effortlessly incorporate this statement plant into your home! 

What is the ponytail palm?
Also known as an elephant foot tree or bottle palm, the ponytail palm features a thick trunk with curled, grass-like leaves protruding from the top. If you want something low maintenance, we’ve got good news: the ponytail palm is actually an easy-care succulent, not a real (and finicky) palm — it is, in fact, native to semi-desert areas of southeast Mexico. Still, you’ll get tropical vibes without needing to commit too much space or energy toward proper upkeep. 

Read more