Expert tips to keep house plants alive over the festive period

What self-respecting millennial would be seen without at least a dozen house plants adorning the shelves and side tables of their home?

Interior trends, the desire to have something to care for, and the rise of ‘plant-fluencers’ have been cited as some of the things fuelling our ongoing obsession.

However, as great as they can look, they can be difficult to keep alive – and this isn’t made any easier by the fact that their needs can change with the seasons.

It often takes time to build up a relationship with a plant and get used to what it needs – the last thing you want is for all of that love and care (and cash) to simply wither away over the festive period.

Plus, a house full of dead foliage is never a good look.

Plants need a different type of care in colder weather in general, and if you’re going to be away from home over Christmas, there are some things you need to consider.

Less is often more in winter

‘During winter most plants are in a dormant period,’ explains Kendall Platt, creator of The Mindful Gardening Planner. ‘As the temperature drops and light levels are lower they take the opportunity to have a much needed rest – perhaps we should all take a leaf from their book!

‘Because of this,’ she continues, ‘they won’t be in “active growth” and they won’t be using as many nutrients and water, so be careful not to overwater and over feed them.’

‘During the colder months, you should reduce watering to once a fortnight for most plants, while plants such as cacti should be left alone completely- overwatering can cause extensive damage to plants,’ advises Samantha Jones, gardening expert at

But how do you know when to water them? And, how much they need?

‘For the most part, a general rule of thumb is to water roughly half as much as you would in the summertime,’ says Emma Kelsey from Glasgow PlantMama.

‘But the best way to know for sure is to always feel the soil of your plants before watering,’ she continues.

‘I always recommend what I like to call, “The Finger Test” when deciding whether it is the right time to water, rather than going by a set schedule.

‘This test is done by simply using your finger to feel the top 3-5cm of your plant’s soil, and deciding whether it feels dry enough to require more water, or wet enough to be left for a short while longer.

‘When it comes to winter watering, I would always err on the side of caution. Make sure the soil feels good and dry, and that the pot feels quite light.

‘Houseplants can tolerate under-watering far better than they can tolerate overwatering, especially when they aren’t getting enough sunlight.

‘Overwatering a houseplant can cause it’s roots to begin to rot, which makes it impossible for them to take on the water that they need to survive, so keep an eye out for yellowing leaves and brown spots.’


As well as watering, you should also cut down on feeding your plants.

‘Most houseplants do not require winter feeding, because they are not in the active growth phase of their cycles,’ says Emma.

‘For most of the common houseplants, feeding can actually do more harm than good by acting as a stressor. I recommend putting the plant food away in October and bringing it back for monthly to twice monthly feeding in April.

‘During these months, most plants like to be fed every other watering.’ 

Step away from the Baby Bio.

Make sure they have enough light

We’re all feeling the effects of the shorter days and darker nights, and this extends to plants as well.

However, it has been suggested that plants can help humans suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, so having them around is definitely a bonus.

‘During the shorter days, make sure they get as much light as possible by moving them to a light windowsill,’ advises Kendall. She also recommends cleaning the leaves with a damp cloth to remove any dust, which can affect their growth.

However, she also recommends checking that there are no ‘through draughts’ at the window – as indoor plants will not enjoy this.

Emma recommends investing in a grow light, as an alternative option.

‘They come an awfully long way, and they no longer need to be bright purple to give your plant babies a boost,’ she says.

‘The main thing to keep in mind when using grow lights is the length of time that you keep them on, and the distance from the bulb to the plants,’ she says.

‘In most cases, six to nine hours of additional light (this can be during the day in areas of low light, or as a supplement to the plants that need more light) is more than enough.

‘It is also important to make sure that the grow light bulb isn’t less than 35-40cm away from the houseplants,’ she says. ‘Over time, this can cause pigment damage in the leaves and result in burn blemishes.’


Although the winter is normally a time of slowed growth and hibernation for house plans, it is especially important to make sure our tropical friends are keeping warm and cosy this time of year, advises Emma.

‘Most tropical houseplants are used to living in conditions that are ideally between 16°C and 25°C,’ she says. ‘So it is important to make sure that they aren’t getting too cold, and to keep them away from sudden changes in temperature.

‘This could be an open window in the winter time, or leaving them above a radiator that clicks on a few times a day.

‘Either way, it can act as a stressor, and they can start to show signs of damage through sudden wilting or crispy leaves.’

Pest control

The winter time is definitely a point to look out for pests on your plants – as they look for the warmth and shelter of the indoors.

‘It is important to regularly check all sides of the leaves and stems of your plans for pests during the winter, because they can spread from plant to plant if they take hold,’ says Emma.

‘Keep an eye out for any little white spots, any little black dots, cotton wool like structures, sticky residue, and webbing. Flying fungus gnats can also be a sign (of pests and overwatering).’

Emma recommends Neem Oil – an essential oil that comes from the neem tree, and acts as an incredible pesticide and fungicide. ‘It kills all manor of pests, can help with soil mildew and fungal infections, and is completely non-toxic and safe to use around pets.’ 

Leaving your plants home alone?

As much as many of us would probably like to take our plant babies with us when we head off for the holidays, it’s really not practical – or advisable. So, what can you do to make sure that they thrive as best as possible, while you’re not there?

First of all, it depends on the type of plant as they all have different needs.

‘Some plants such a cacti and succulents need watering very infrequently anyway so they will be fine without any plant care over the festive period,’ says Kendall.

‘Most houseplants will be fine for a couple of weeks without water due to being in their dormant state,’ she continues. ‘The exception to this is winter flowering plants such a poinsettias who are actively growing.’

But if you’re going to be away longer than two weeks, the experts agree that it is probably worth getting a friend to pop in and water your plants.

‘If you are going away for an ever longer period,’ says Samantha, ‘you may want to consider implementing a water recycling terrarium or you can make one yourself. All you need is a plastic bag which should be tied around multiple plants and secured with a rubber band or twist tie.

‘The plants will then release water from the leaves which will drip down into the soil, which will allow them to thrive while you are on holiday.’

Emma suggests that a wicking system or self watering pot could also be a great solution to your watering dilemma, adding that ‘it’s relatively low cost and will ease your worries while you’re away.’

You can also group certain tropical plants together, to help them share their humidity and keep moisture levels higher while you’re away. She adds that ‘investing in a small humidifier can help too.

‘Finally, keeping your plants warm should also be a priority, so leave the heating on – but low.’

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