Liven up your home with these winter-hardy houseplants.
In many areas, winter months lend themselves to cold, snowy weather, and consequently warm, toasty homes. Keeping greenery in your home throughout the bleak months of winter is sure to brighten the spirit. But fewer hours of daylight, fluctuating temperatures, and dry air creates a challenging growing environment for most plants. In search of houseplants that are best suited to winter conditions, we reached out to several plant pros for their top picks for durable indoor houseplants likely to survive all year long.
Don’t be fooled by the beauty of the Chinese evergreen—beyond its handsome exterior is one tough plant. Justin Hancock, a horticulturist at Costa Farms, explains that this forgiving houseplant is great during the wintertime because it “doesn’t mind low light or inconsistent watering, as long as it doesn’t stay wet for extended periods.” Its broad, decorative leaves are woven with gorgeous patterns in colors that come in a range of glossy greens, silvers, grays, and cream. Even the least experienced gardener can successfully grow the Chinese evergreen thanks to its hardiness. Cast aside any self-doubt, as Hancock reassures, “this air-purifying houseplant powers through the winter season and looks fresh and green all year.”
This gem of a plant is virtually indestructible, looking green and healthy even after months of neglect. In fact, the zz plant will often do better if you leave it alone. “Its thick, rubbery leaves stand up well to dry winter air and don’t get brown crispy edges like less-sturdy houseplants can,” says Hancock. Since it can thrive in low-light conditions, the zz plant “continues to look good under short winter days,” says Hancock.
“Orchids don’t have a reputation for being easy-to-grow,” notes Hancock, “but happily, cultivating a moth orchid can be a breeze.” Elegant, long-lasting blooms stud the tops of bright green stems on this low-maintenance houseplant. While the moth orchid is happiest in a medium to brightly lit spot, it tolerates low light very well. This plant holds up well during the winter months when you may be traveling or simply distracted by the hustle and bustle of the holidays and forget a watering or two. Thanks to its preference toward a drier climate, you can enjoy its blooms without having to shower it with attention. “Best of all,” adds Hancock, “it usually reblooms once nighttime temperatures begin to drop.”
Adding architectural interest to any room, the snake plant is one of the most accommodating houseplants available. “A tried-and-true houseplant that you practically have to kill, the snake plant holds up well to the conditions that can make winters inside a challenge,” says Hancock. Low-light, drought, and insects are no match for the sturdy constitution of this houseplant. Its blade-like leaves come in a diverse range of colors and patterns that offer not just beauty but also air-purifying benefits.
If you’re in search of a plant that will add a little flair but will also survive a winter with the heat cranked up, look no further. According to Hancock, the ponytail palm can “survive dry soil and dry air so you can grow it without worry.” It stores a generous amount of water in its thick, textured trunk, making use of its reserves during periods of drought. Long and narrow, dark green leaves form a fountain-like cascade that flows down to the plant's base. Resilient in nature, the ponytail palm is the perfect way to “add a festive feel to your home or desk,” says Hancock.
Many varieties of fern don’t need much light because they’re used to growing on forest floors, completely shaded by a canopy of trees, says Maria de Los Angeles Rodriguez Jimenez, a floral designer for GRDN, a gardening supply shop in Brooklyn. However, while they can tolerate low levels of light, they demand high humidity and like to be watered and misted frequently, so this option isn’t for the hands-off plant owner. While many houseplants prefer to dry out in between waterings, ferns like constantly damp soil. The maidenhair fern is a pretty option with delicate, lacy leaves, and will be happy in a spot offering indirect light for at least part of the day.
If you have a room that’s chilly and doesn’t get a lot of sunlight, the clivia may be its ideal match. “These durable plants actually prefer a period of cooler weather which will allow their fantastic blooms to emerge, typically in orange or sometimes a golden yellow,” explains Stephen Hill, the creative director at Sprout Home, a garden design center with locations in Chicago and Brooklyn. Not only will this beautiful plant bloom even in a drafty home, but the vibrant colors will brighten up a chilly space. Another bonus: clivia like to be kept on the dry side, so you won’t need to water them every day.
To protect your plants from a chilly breeze beside a window or near the front door, consider a miniature version of a greenhouse: the glass terrarium. “It will retain humidity within the glass as well as protect the plants from both hot and cold drafts,” says Hill. Not only does the terrarium shield the plants inside, but it also adds a stylish conversation piece to a living room. “Ideal plants for covered terrariums are mosses, ferns, and fern allies,” recommends Hill. You can try creating your own terrarium, and Sprout Home offers terrarium-building classes and online orders in Chicago and New York City.
“A lot of plants don't really like the combination of cold air with hot radiator air in the winter months,” admits Maria de Los Angeles Rodriguez Jimenez. “However, some plants can tolerate it.” One of the most likely plants to survive these temperature variations is the jade plant. “The jade plant, which is a type of succulent, will be fine near an open window in the winter,” she says. It also doesn’t require much water, and can thrive with a watering once every three weeks. This plant looks like a miniature tree, so it will introduce a refreshing burst of greenery to your home, even when the trees outside are leafless.
If you’re looking for a durable plant that will also bring a pop of color to your space, turn to the festive Christmas cactus. This plant is typically propagated for sale before Thanksgiving, but its pretty red and pink blooms hint at spring. Plus, this houseplant is undeniably low-maintenance. “They range in color, thrive on neglect, and can be kept indoors year-round or moved outside for the summer in full shade,” says Barbara Pierson, nursery manager at White Flower Farm.
The good news is, many of the most common houseplants don’t like a lot of water, according to de Los Angeles Rodriguez Jimenez. One of her favorite drought-tolerant picks is a philodendron, like the split-leaf or the monstera, which is an on-trend choice. These plants only need to be watered once every two weeks or so. What’s the secret to knowing if your giant monstera plant is thirsty? Pick up the plant and get familiar with its typical weight. “Sometimes water evaporates much faster or much slower depending on the room temperature. So if your plant feels heavy but hasn't been watered in two weeks, the soil is probably still very wet and watering it again will only cause it harm,” she explains.
On a windowsill in a dry room is the ideal location for a succulent collection. They come in a wide array of colors and styles, so you can mix and match to create a unique grouping. “One thing to keep in mind is that temperatures tend to be cooler near windows in northern climates, especially in older buildings. In scenarios like this, it can be advised to almost not water your succulents throughout the winter months,” Hill says. Some succulents may continue to grow during this time, while others will wait at a standstill until spring. When warmer weather hits, you can resume regular (yet still infrequent) watering.
Fiddle Leaf Fig Tree
One thing to remember about caring for houseplants in the winter is that many, including the popular fiddle leaf fig, experience natural growing seasons and periods of dormancy. These periods should also correspond to how often you water them, says de Los Angeles Rodriguez Jimenez. For example, the fiddle leaf fig tree should be watered once every two weeks during the growing season, but only needs water about once a month during the winter. Also keep in mind that water evaporates more slowly in a chilly room than a hot one, so pay attention to whether the room is drafty and damp or dry and hot.
If your house runs dry in the winter, but you’re too busy to water your plants regularly (let alone turn on a humidifier for them), then aloe is a great choice. This hardy succulent can store water in its sculptural leaves, allowing it to go long stretches between waterings. The only downside is that this plant won’t give you any visual clues if it’s parched. “You have to check the soil to see that it needs water—it won’t wilt!” says Pierson. While this desert plant can handle a dry environment, it also loves to sunbathe, so set it near a window that gets plenty of light.
Cacti and Desert Plants
If you live in a home with an overactive heater, cacti and desert plants will thrive there. “They love dry air and hot environments because that's where they are naturally from,” explains Maria de Los Angeles Rodriguez Jimenez. “A piece of wood, which is a poor conductor of heat, over a radiator is the perfect place to have a small cacti desert set up, and super cute,” she says. And because many deserts are known to get chilly at night, some varieties of desert plants can handle the cold and go into winter dormancy. “They'll drop their leaves, but appreciate the snooze from the growing season,” explains Stephen Hill.
If you keep your thermostat turned all the way up in the winter, and also tend to be an inconsistent plant waterer, the wax plant, also known as hoya, is for you. “Hoya have thick waxy leaves and rope-like stems that allow them to take hot temperatures by storing water in their succulent plant parts,” says Pierson. By reserving water in this way, the wax plant is always prepared for an unexpected drought. The hoya’s cascading leaves look stunning when suspended in a hanging woven basket, and if you forget to water it for a few weeks, this forgiving plant will bounce back quickly without getting brown leaves.