When you’re approaching your first winter with a tropical plant – especially one as fussy as a Calathea – it’s natural to wonder whether it can survive the months of cold and darkness. The good news is that with a few simple adjustments to your care regimen, you can ensure that your Calathea will remain healthy and happy until spring rolls around.
Calatheas don’t automatically shut down in the winter, but it’s common for their growth to slow or stop due to reduced light levels. When this happens, it’s best to avoid giving it fertilizer – if you give your plant more than it can use, its roots will suffer. The same goes for water, though you should still hydrate your Calathea when you feel the soil drying out.
On the other hand, you’ll probably need to pump up the humidity to compensate for the drier indoor air. It’s also important to prevent your plant from experiencing large temperature fluctuations. Keep reading for some practical strategies for getting your Calathea safely through the winter.
Do Calatheas Go Dormant in Winter?
If you go browsing for advice on Calathea care, you’ll find a lot of people stating that these plants experience a period of dormancy during the winter months. Let’s take a moment to clarify exactly what that means.
Calatheas evolved in equatorial rainforests where there’s little difference from month to month in the amount of heat and light available. As such, they don’t have a built-in seasonal response that prompts them to hunker down when winter approaches. However, their growth rate does respond to the amount of energy, water, and nutrition they receive.
Since it’s almost always darker in the wintertime, Calatheas tend to produce less growth – they simply don’t have as much sun to fuel their metabolism. However, this doesn’t always mean they come to a complete halt. You might see your Peacock Plant send up a few new leaves even during the coldest parts of the year.
If most or all of your Calathea’s leaves drop off when it starts to get cold, this is definitely cause for alarm. These aren’t deciduous plants that naturally shed and renew their foliage each year. Sudden leaf loss is usually the result of severe cold shock – it’s a sign that you should move your plant into a warmer location immediately.
Caring For Calatheas in Winter
Calatheas love consistency in all things, and they’re known to express their displeasure with sudden changes by abruptly wilting, curling, and changing colors. Keeping them healthy through the winter is a matter of compensating for the changes in ambient conditions that will happen as the days get shorter. We’ll explain how your plant’s various needs are likely to change during the cold season.
For most indoor gardeners, this is the factor that will change the most in wintertime. You can shut your storm windows, crank up the heat, and switch on a humidifier, but you can’t turn up the sun. With fewer hours of daylight, your Calathea won’t have nearly as much energy to work with.
The good news is that by itself, a reduction in sunlight is unlikely to kill your Calathea. Like most plants, they can hang on for quite a while in relatively low light; they just won’t grow much.
However, if conditions get too dark, the eye-popping patterns on your Calathea’s leaves may fade somewhat. To prevent this, try moving your plant to a slightly sunnier spot. As long as it doesn’t get more than 2-3 hours of direct sun during the course of a day – unlikely in the winter unless it’s in a south-facing window – your Calathea will probably appreciate the boost.
You can also use grow lights to take over where the sun leaves off. With a robust enough set of full-spectrum lamps, it’s possible your Calathea will never notice that it’s winter outside. If you’re interested in going this route, look at our article on the best grow lights and lighting techniques for houseplants.
If you do decide to place your Calathea by a window to give it more sun, check first to make sure there isn’t a draft seeping in. These plants prefer a temperature range of 65-80 degrees, so they’ll suffer if the frigid winter air can reach them. Typical symptoms of cold damage include drooping stems, yellow and brown foliage, and curling leaf edges.
By the same token, you don’t want to set a Calathea beneath or beside a heating vent, fireplace, or another major heat source. They’ll be just as unhappy if they’re too hot as if they’re too cold.
This is another excellent reason to keep your Calathea away from the vents – heated air in modern homes is almost always dry air. These tropical princesses are extremely sensitive to reductions in moisture levels, so keep the ambient humidity above 60% if you can. You can monitor it with a fairly inexpensive hygrometer.
Those living in temperate climates will probably find that it takes a bit of work to keep humidity levels suitable for Calatheas during the winter. The following tricks can help:
- Clustering plants together. Houseplants in close proximity create a more humid microclimate due to the water vapor they release from their leaves. Keep your Calathea next to its buddies.
- Choosing a humid room. Bathrooms and kitchens are typically a lot steamier than the rest of the house. They’re also less likely to be drafty.
- A humidity tray. This is a shallow dish filled with smooth stones and a bit of water – not enough to cover the rocks, just enough to evaporate and give off some extra humidity. Rest your Calathea’s pot on the pebbles, making sure it’s above the water line.
- Misting. Spritzing your plant frequently with a spray bottle can help compensate for dry air, though you’ll need to do it a few times a day to move the needle much. Use lukewarm water with a very fine mist setting.
- A humidifier. We saved the best for last – out of all the strategies on this list, a compact humidifier will probably work the best. As a bonus, some models provide warm mist that can make up for temperature shortfalls.
Calatheas use their leaves to express discomfort with low humidity: when the air is too dry, you’ll see them turning brown at the tips and curling in at the edges. Read more about Calatheas and Humidity here.
Because growth is slower in the winter, your Calathea will take longer to soak up the water in its pot. And because temperatures are lower, the moisture in the soil won’t evaporate as quickly. This means you should hydrate your plant a bit less. Otherwise, you risk letting water pool in the bottom of the pot where it can cause root rot – which is every bit as nasty as it sounds.
Don’t blindly pull back on the amount of water you’re giving the plant, though. It’s better to monitor and respond to your Calathea’s needs. Check the soil once every 5-7 days and water when the top two inches have dried out with your finger or a moisture meter.
Overwatering usually resembles dehydration at first, since it smothers the roots – you may notice wilting, yellowing, or browning leaves despite the soil remaining damp. More serious symptoms include mushy stems or a foul odor emanating from the potting mix. If you think your plant might have root rot, take a look at our article on how to diagnose and fix this issue.
If you usually give your Calathea regular doses of liquid fertilizer, we’d advise scaling back during the winter. Plants can only grow as fast as the scarcest ingredient permits, and in the winter, sunlight is likely to be scarcer than any nutrient. Adding more fertilizer when there’s too little solar energy for growth will only risk poisoning your plant’s roots.
Calatheas will never be winter’s biggest fans, but as long as you pay attention to their needs, there’s no reason they shouldn’t remain healthy through the darkest days of the year. Use the lessons you’ve learned from this article to keep your plant cozy and content all winter long.