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How to love your houseplants so they survive all winter long

Side by side photos of two plants, one with large, long green leaves and a white blossom, another with stripey pinkish and green leaves. Both are in a pot indoors.
Judy Mirro
The moth orchid, left, is a non-toxic house plant, and the variegated jade, right, turns pinker with more light.

From snake plants to succulents, our house plants can start to feel like part of the family. Especially in the winter, when they might be the only green, growing thing you see all day.

So how to keep them going through the cold months? Vermont Edition received the following plant care tips from Calista Budrow, the owner of GreenSpell Plant Shop in Rutland, and Deb Heleba and Judy Mirro, who are with the University of Vermont Extension Master Gardener program.

If you have lemon or lime trees, make sure you're watering them enough in winter.

"They like a bit of moisture, and winters we tend to be pretty dry," Judy Mirro said. "Because of the, you know, so much heat. So I would be adding a humidifier in the area that you're growing them in the wintertime."

And if it's not a self-fertilizing lemon tree (like a Meyer lemon), Calista Budrow said it's good to pop it outside in a sunny spot during the warmer months so you get pollinators fertilizing the blooms for you.

Calista also says lemon trees do take a long time to reach maturity, and the ones that bloom and fruit tend to be grafted onto a more mature tree. Well-draining acidic soils help, too.

To keep your cat from chewing on your plants, give them some friendly grass.

"If you can offer them an alternative and if your pet enjoys it, like an oat grass or some rye grass... and you offer it in enough places around the house, that's a great way to get them focused on something that they'll eat and stay away from the rest of your plants," Judy said.

If you want to propagate a plant, hold off.

"I generally wait until spring before propagating any of my house plants," Judy said. "Midwinter, things are pretty much moving slow."

If you have north-facing windows and little sun, go for low-light plants.

Like snake plants, ZZ plants, philodendrons, peace lilies, pothos.

"You'll just want to make sure that you're letting it dry out between waterings, because with less light, they'll be using less water," Calista said.

To avoid overwatering, touch that soil!

"Plants don't really need as much as you might think," Calista said. "So you go around, touch the soil. If it's still wet, likely you won't be watering for a while, depending on what it is — there are a few plants that are the exception."

Deb Heleba said a moisture meter can also be a helpful purchase.

"It's basically has a probe, and you just pop it into the soil of the plant and it will tell you — you know how much moisture is in that soil," Deb said.

The proper amount of watering can also help prevent fungal gnats, Judy said, if the soil has a chance to dry out.

More questions? You can ask the UVM Extension Master Gardner Volunteer Helpline HERE.

Broadcast at noon Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024. Rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or check us out on Instagram.

Mikaela Lefrak is the host and senior producer of Vermont Edition. Her stories have aired nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Marketplace, The World and Here & Now. A seasoned local reporter, Mikaela has won two regional Edward R. Murrow awards and a Public Media Journalists Association award for her work.
Andrea Laurion joined Vermont Public as a news producer for Vermont Edition in December 2022. She is a native of Pittsburgh, Pa., and a graduate of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine. Before getting into audio, Andrea worked as an obituary writer, a lunch lady, a wedding photographer assistant, a children’s birthday party hostess, a haunted house actor, and an admin assistant many times over.
Elodie is a reporter and producer for Vermont Public. She previously worked as a multimedia journalist at the Concord Monitor, the St. Albans Messenger and the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, and she's freelanced for The Atlantic, the Christian Science Monitor, the Berkshire Eagle and the Bennington Banner. In 2019, she earned her MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Southern New Hampshire University.