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Caring for Indoor Plants During Winter

by Grace Bonney

While winter hasn’t quite made its presence known in my area (we’re usually covered in snow by now, but it’s still dry and sunny here), the temperatures are dropping and I’m keeping a close eye on all of my indoor plants to make sure I’m not drying them out or letting them get too cold by the windows. I inevitably lose a plant or two over the winter, but this year I’m hoping each and every one makes it through to spring. Thankfully, Damien and Jackie of Harrison Green are here today to share their expert tips for caring for indoor plants during the winter. From pointers on placement and light to types of hardy plants that will weather the winter well, their advice will help you get through the winter with plenty of happy, healthy plants. Just click through the slideshow above for their top 8 tips and a list of great indoor plants. xo, grace

Photography by Nicholas Calcott

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Owning a landscape design, installation and maintenance company in New York City is a business that — in many ways — is controlled by the weather and the seasons. We are constantly checking the weather forecast so that we can be prepared for how frigid winters or hot and humid summers will affect our clients’ gardens. Even wind can be a challenge for our rooftop gardens and terraces, while heavy rainfall can wreak havoc on shady townhouse courtyards.

For this reason, we have really grown to love indoor plants and the year-round consistency and reliability that they can (almost always) provide. Especially during the winter months, when there can be three feet of snow outside and only bare trees, it is great to be able to walk inside and see some green. Indoor plants have the additional benefit of improving air quality and helping you breathe better, and have even been credited with deterring illness and increasing productivity. This is especially beneficial in winter, when people are spending so much more time indoors.

Given that we spend most of our time concerned with our clients’ gardens, we honestly have very little time to worry about plants of our own, so the plants we have around us need to be tough and able to withstand some occasional neglect.

Somewhat by accident, our studio in Brooklyn has become a living laboratory of indoor plants, where we have been able to test firsthand the hardiness of a number of species. Along the way, we have learned some lessons about how to care for these indoor plants and some of the best foolproof species to use. Here, we share some of the plants that inhabit our studio and some simple tips to help anyone keep an indoor plant alive, especially during the colder months. —Damien and Jackie of Harrison Green

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Keep it Simple, Succulent: It’s amazing how just one plant, regardless of the scale, can make a difference to the look and feel of a space. It may even make you healthier. If you’re nervous about how to use indoor plants without looking like a plant hoarder, keep it simple and limit the amount of plants to one. Choose something you love. Succulents are an easy-to-care-for plant that require very little attention if they have enough sunlight. (Five small succulents are a playful addition to the gallery wall in our studio. We could not resist the opportunity to "landscape" this abstract landscape painting by artist Sam Holt.)
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Foliage over Flowers: Unlike plants for outdoors, indoor plants aren’t going to provide a floral display, even in spring. So when we select indoor plants, we look at the quality of the foliage, not the potential to flower. Flowers on any indoor plant will be fleeting if at all, but foliage is forever. When picking out a plant, select a specimen with a specific location in mind. Much like you would with a piece of furniture, choosing something that is appropriately scaled will have a far better result. This specimen, New Zealand Laurel (Corynocarpus laevigatus), came from a nursery on the West Coast and fills a blank wall in a corner of our studio.
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Let it Grow: A newly purchased plant from a nursery will likely be perfect in its form, but perfect can be boring. As a plant matures, it will develop its own character. We love it when a plant meanders towards a window or puts out unexpected new growth. As plants age, they get so much more interesting. Work with the unique character the plant presents. (When a Monstera (Monstera deliciosa) in a corner of our studio started taking over an entire workstation, we decided to hang it from the ceiling as a living sculpture.)
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Be Prepared to Get Your Hands Dirty, Occasionally: If you are going to have a healthy indoor plant, you need to be willing to pay attention to it at least once a week. That might only mean giving it a drink or removing a dead leaf or two. Plants are pretty good at telling you when they’re not happy. Keep an eye out for any signs of stress, like wilting or yellowing leaves, or dry soil. If you position the plant appropriately and keep up with the watering, you should reap the benefits of a heathy plant. (This fig tree is probably our most "high maintenance" plant, but we just love its sculptural form. It lives outside for most of the year but spends the winter inside in a bright spot in our studio library, and sits alongside a small staghorn fern.)
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Let There Be Light.: The amount of sunlight a plant requires will vary, but even the hardiest species will need some access to light in order to survive longterm. If you’re living in a basement apartment with no windows, or prefer to keep your curtains drawn all day, an interior plant may not be for you. In our studio, we have a variety of lighting conditions, so we have staggered the location of plants accordingly. Succulents sit on the brightest window sills, while less demanding Pothos or Peperomia sit further away from the light. Over the winter, plants that are close to windows may need to be moved to a warmer spot. (We have found the Natal Mahogany Tree (Trichila dregeana) to be one of the toughest indoor trees.)
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Consistency is Key.: Plants will appreciate a regular care schedule and a consistent environment. In most cases, watering once per week will do it, but when the seasons change outdoors your indoor plant needs will also change. When your AC blasts in August and your heat fires in November, remember that changes in temperature will also affect the plants in your life. Contrary to what most people would think, indoor plants typically need more water in the winter to compensate for the drying effect of heating systems. Heat can also dry out the air, so your plant will also benefit from an occasional misting of its foliage.
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Have Fun: A lot of people find plants to be a little overwhelming. But if you select something appropriate for your location, it is a great opportunity to bring some life to your interior and have some fun. Think about using an interesting pot, or placing the plants in an unexpected way. Plants don’t always have to sit on the floor or a table. In our print room, Pothos (Epipremnum aureum), Staghorn Fern (Platycerium bifurcatum), Bird Nest Fern (Asplenium nidus) & Club Fern (Pteris cretica) hang in handmade ceramic pots and brighten an otherwise ordinary space.
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Damien and Jackie of Harrison Green. Their favorite indoor plants are: Philodendron ‘Congo,’ Monstera Monstera deliciosa, Natal Mahogany Trichila dregeana, Pothos Epipremnum aureum, Club fern Pteris cretica, Staghorn Fern Platycerium bifurcatum, and Bird Nest Fern Asplenium nidus.

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Comments

  • people who live in basement apartments, or even those with only north facing windows can have indoor plants too. Just get a grow light. And now that there are LED options it doesn’t take a lot of power either (12-24 watts).

    • I only have north facing windows but my two indoor plants have actually been doing fine even with the limited sunlight they get from my windows. However I’m sure they wouldn’t mind having a grow light too ;)

  • I have a “Rabbits Foot Fern”that has covered the whole pot and is growing more feet over itself .Should I cut it back to replant or can I divide it up for more plants to give away ?

  • In the first slide, the painting with the mustachioed woman is really cool; grabbed my eye right away! And I like how the placement of the succulents balances out the composition of the gallery wall, thanks for the tips.

  • Once again, the timeliness of your post could not be more fitting in my life. I’ve been reading more and more about the benefits of indoor plants – not only for the beauty of a room but for the air cleaning benefits, so I’ve been slowly trying to fill my house with more of them. So far, only one has made it in. But slowly I will incorporate them more. I love the fig tree – I may need to look into one of those!

  • Wonderful advice here. I’d love more info on how to hang a giant plant like that hanging monstera. I’m interested in both the pot (looks mossy) and how to hang something heavy like that. I’m encouraged by the comments on imperfection.

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