Container Plants in Winter

Winter can be a tough time for plants that grow in containers either outside or indoors, unless you take some special care of them.

Before we look at the problems these plants face, let us consider the difference between plants growing in the garden and the ones in containers. Garden plants have nature to look after them, sunlight, rain and the soil provide for their basic needs.

It is only during times of low rainfall that you need to assist in keeping them alive with regular waterings.

There are other functions that you provide such as preventing them from choking out each other with a bit of pruning, removal of competing plants (weeds), staking against damage from wind and providing extra nourishment as need be.
By in large most of the time plants in the garden can fend for themselves with what nature and the weather provides.

When we take a plant and place it in a container, we become very responsible for its well being.

Outdoor container mixes dry out quickly during the summer and daily or even twice daily waterings maybe needed. During wet times we need to ensure that the outdoor container plants have free drainage if they are rained on. This means removing any saucers and raising the containers off the ground with a couple of slats of wood.

Over the next few months, without rain, you are likely to be only giving these containers an occasional light watering, maybe once or twice a week.

Indoor plants are much more dependant on your care as they have a harder life because many of them are living in a space where there is no natural overhead light.

In most homes, light comes only through windows and dependant on which direction a window faces will determine the amount of light the plant receives. Windows facing north obtain the most direct light where east and west facing windows are likely to receive only half as much direct light in a day.

South facing windows receive little if any direct light from the sun. These same rooms will be the coolest or coldest rooms in the house dependant on the time of the year.

A plant sitting in front of a window facing either west, north or east will receive very good light in summer and only a fraction of that in winter. If you have a sun screen curtain across the window, you have likely reduced the amount of light the plant receives by half. Move a plant a metre or more away from a window then the amount of direct light drops off. The futher away the less light which becomes then reflected light.

We all have seen plants that are stretching towards the window to gain more light, becoming ungainly and weak. There is a big selection of different types of house plants each with a different requirement for the amount of light it receives. A general rule of thumb is the plants with the largest leaves will survive better in lessor light situations compared to smaller leaf plants. Most flowering plants require plenty of direct light to be able to produce buds and have those buds open. If you have an indoor flowering plant and it either does not produce flower buds or the buds fail to open, falling off after forming, then the plant is telling you it needs more light.

In winter the light situation becomes even worse for indoor plants. The hours of natural light are shorter and the sun is at a lower position in relation to the horizon. Plants need light to grow and as the amount of light decreases so their growth slows or stops. Indoor plants do receive a bit of extra light from us when we turn the light switch on after dusk. If we are using the new power saving lights then the type of light the plants receive is better suited to their requirements compared to the incandescent lights.
When indoor plants are receiving less light their needs for moisture greatly reduces.

This is a key point at this time of the year and one of the main causes of plants dying.

Wet potting mix in cool weather means root rots, which cause leaves to fall and likely a loss eventually of that plant.

So in winter you must be very careful with your watering of indoor plants.

You need to check every plant every few days and basically only give them a little drink when the foliage starts to droop through lack of moisture. (Beware also that plants that are too wet will also have drooping foliage and to give them more water is likely to be fatal.)

Plant food is not needed for house plants at this time of the year unless they are flowering or still actively growing. Wait till the plants start showing signs of new growth in the spring before you start to feed again.

Avoid repotting into larger containers in winter as this also can cause wet feet till the roots once again fill the container.

You are the care giver of your container plants both indoors and outside so be aware of their needs and look after them accordantly.

3 comments on “Container Plants in Winter

  1. michele dunlop on said:

    hi Wally
    is there a way to choose the size of a container relating to the plant.
    You suggested recently that I grow my fruit shrubs in containers as my house is placed in such a way that much of the garden spaces get around 2 hours sun each in the summer. thanks m

  2. read article press about using recycle bins as planters didn’t keep it to know about placing drainage holes /size ,space & how many .Are fish bins suitable? Can I find you articles on website ?Thanks Bev

  3. Hi Bev, You can use just about anything as a planter. Fish bins would be suitable depending on their depth 40 – 50 cm would be fine . If you are growing lettuce, leaves, herbs and brassicas they would be fine – place some pebbles or stone in the bottom and a few holes with a drill. Basically the water needs to be able to drain so the plants don’t get wet feet.

    Happy gardening


    Tim Durrant

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