For many, the end of summer is a sad time, as it marks the beginning of the coldest time of the year - for others, autumn is a real feast with its cool weather and colour-changing trees. Annual plants that live outdoors begin to prepare themselves for the rigours of winter, but what about indoor plants? Well, being from a different climate we have to help them survive this seasonal change.
With Calatheas you have to be especially careful at this time of year as they are tropical plants that are not prepared for the abrupt temperature drops of these latitudes. This does not mean that you have to resign yourself to seeing your plants die in winter, because with a few changes in their routine they will remain beautiful all year round. Don't worry, with these top tips for caring for Calatheas in autumn and winter you can get them ready for the season.
Plants, humans and seasons: Why we should prepare for winter
One of the things I appreciate most about having plants in the house is that they make me feel more connected to the cycles of nature. This may sound a bit hippie, but the truth is that humans have our own cycles, known as circadian rhythms, which are also affected (among other things) by the amount of light we perceive.
As you may have noticed, the length of the day changes throughout the year, according to the seasons, and they determine the way the biological clock programmes the circadian rhythms of plants and people. The circadian rhythm has a direct impact on processes such as sleep rhythm, metabolism, mental disorders, obesity, among many others. It is the clock that tells us how and when the organism should react, regulating it. It is like a virtual assistant that reminds each process of the right time to act.
When autumn arrives, it marks the beginning of the dark part of the year. The days become shorter, the nights longer and we enter an almost obligatory period of rest, which slowly prepares us for the winter. With such low temperatures and so little light, plants and animals are forced to slow down their work and production during the winter. But this is only a time of rest, during which we recover our strength to start growing again in the spring.
Wonders such as heating, the possibility of preserving food for longer, trade and exchange that allows us to have certain products even out of season, means of transport and all the other privileges help us to stay alive and active during the winter. When you have plants you reconnect to some extent with these cycles, which we have forgotten in order to live in the modern rhythm of constant production without rest.
Preparing your plants for winter is a way of remembering these ancestral customs, that rhythm of life when we did not have the current resources that allow us to survive even when the environmental conditions are not the most optimal and that are the most appropriate and natural way of living, respecting the spontaneous processes of the organism. It is also a reminder of the most natural rhythms, reaffirming our connection with the most atavistic and authentic processes of nature, so it will have a very positive impact on your psycho-emotional health.
how does autumn-winter affect calatheas?
Calatheas are herbaceous perennials, i.e. they keep their green foliage all year round. This type of plant is characterised by the fact that it does not form a permanent woody tissue and will be in continuous growth all year round if temperatures are warm enough. But don't let this confuse you, because they also have a growth and dormancy cycle dictated by the seasons.
Let's remember that Calatheas are plants that come from South America, where the seasons are not as marked as in the southern hemisphere, but there are more or less differentiated seasonal periods. Although the winter in these countries does not have such extreme temperatures, there is a change in the amount of light and temperature; there are also periods with more rainfall and other warmer months. Despite these changes, temperatures do not vary abruptly in these environments and there is no frost. For this reason it is almost impossible to keep a Calathea alive outdoors if temperatures in your region drop too low in autumn-winter and it is better to keep them indoors.
Indoors the environmental conditions are much more stable and it will be easier to keep them happy. Your Calathea will remain just as colourful and beautiful during the colder months of the year, but you need to take special care to ensure it adapts successfully to the season. Don't worry, it's not complicated and these adjustments will allow your plant to not only survive the winter, but to wake up bright and happy for spring.
Calathea care in autumn-winter
Always remember that calathea are plants that come from tropical climates, so they have fairly stable humidity and temperature requirements. In short: they are not made to live on this side of the world, as abrupt changes in environmental conditions can affect them negatively, i.e. kill them immediately. It's like taking a polar bear out and bringing it to live in the Sahara desert.
Thanks to all the deities we live in the midst of modernity and we have to be thankful that, even if the environmental conditions are not ideal for a beautiful Calathea to live outside, we have the means for it to live indoors all year round. But heating and water are not enough, because the secret to keeping them happy and radiant lies in the balance and stability of their conditions. Let us explain how to achieve this in more detail:
As temperatures drop, watering should be spaced out and become a little less frequent. This is because as temperatures drop, the water will not evaporate as quickly from the substrate but will stay hydrated for longer. Remember to always check the texture and humidity of the substrate before watering and check that the drainage holes of the plant are not blocked. I always like to put a layer of pebbles or polystyrene pieces at the bottom of the pot to avoid the risk of waterlogging.
One of the typical mistakes with plants in winter is to overwater them. This does not mean that you will use less water for watering. It is better to space your watering well, but water them abundantly, this way you guarantee that the plant will always have the water it needs to live. Soak the substrate well and let the water drain away. Remember to make sure that the excess water that drains from the pot does not soak in, if you have a decorative pot or a small saucer to collect it. In this season, good drainage is crucial to ensure the survival of the plant.
Calatheas require moisture to remain lush and beautiful. Some people think that because it is a cold season, spraying is not necessary, but the truth is that when they are indoors with the heater on, the air around them will be excessively dry. Just as you need to use a special moisturiser for your skin during the winter, you need to pay extra attention to the humidity levels of your calathea. This is also good for you, as it will be beneficial for your respiratory system, skin and hair.
The simplest way to maintain humidity levels is to purchase a humidifier and keep it running indoors. They are inexpensive and there are many good looking models that will also look good with your decor. In case you don't want to buy one, you can use the old trick of little trays with pebbles and some water to put in each pot. There are also water trays that sit on top of radiators and allow the water to evaporate. another trick is to take your plants with you into the kitchen or bathroom. The steam from the shower and the water in this environment will do them a world of good. Don't forget to spray their leaves from time to time and group them together, so that they form a united front against the lack of humidity.
Calatheas are tropical, they become exuberant in the heat and prefer the warm but high humidity atmosphere of the tropical jungle, so their ideal environment can never be below 15° C (about 70° F). If frost is very frequent and extreme in your region, you might consider protecting them in a small greenhouse (you can find some on the web and there are even tutorials for making them at home) on the coldest days.
Although it may seem logical to put them near a heat source so that they can take advantage of the environment, you should avoid putting them too close to a radiator or heater, as these devices dry out the air too much and your poor plant will be dried out and destroyed. On the other hand, remember to keep them away from doors and windows because freezing draughts can kill them even when they are in perfect condition.
If your plant always lives indoors, you shouldn't have much of a problem with lighting, especially since it is filtered. If you live in an area where the amount of light is abruptly reduced during the winter, it is advisable to get a UV lamp. Don't be surprised if its leaves stay down for longer hours, remember that they react to the amount of light they perceive in the environment.
Although it may seem tempting to put them a little in the sun to warm up and enjoy the natural warmth, don't leave them to receive direct rays, even if it's in a window. Calathea leaves are delicate and will burn if exposed to the sun. You can put it in a place that receives more light, but filtered, to ensure that its colours and shapes are protected and happy.
As the temperatures drop, the plants' nutritional needs also decrease, so you will not need to fertilise as often as you do in other seasons. This is a period when Calatheas will go dormant, but you should prepare them to come back in full force the following season. This is why you should never skip the traditional last fertiliser of the year.
The last fertiliser of the year should be done in autumn, if possible with a time-release product, such as tablets, granules or sticks that are buried in the substrate and slowly dissolve with each watering. This will give it the nutrients it needs to face the winter, as well as preparing the plant for its enthusiastic return to the growing season in spring and summer.
- Transplanting and pruning
Transplanting should be done in spring, but there are plants that allow transplanting during autumn. In the case of Calatheas it is best to refrain from potting and leave this delicate process until early summer, when it will be able to spread its roots with confidence and suffer less during this traumatic process. In any case, growth during these colder periods is minimal so you will not need to transplant out of time.
As for pruning, you can be prepared to remove the driest and oldest leaves, so that the plant avoids investing resources unnecessarily, keeping it more robust and ready to continue growing in spring. This is even a way of preparing it for the next season. If you have fertilised it correctly, it will grow even more lush and beautiful in the growing season.
With the cold weather, many of the dreaded pests disappear, but don't be afraid, because you can always fall victim to mealy bugs and red spider mites, as they don't take a seasonal holiday. Another great winter enemy is fungus, as the cold temperatures allow humidity to accumulate for a longer period of time. Some people do a preventive fumigation in autumn to prevent the annoying insects, and you must also be very careful with the frequency of watering.
Remember that the secret is consistency and balance. As long as you don't overdo it with watering frequency, don't expose them to the outdoors or to drafts on windows and doors, your Calatheas should do just fine this season. Keep the temperature inside the house balanced and keep an eye on humidity levels by grouping them together or using a humidifier. This will ensure that your Calatheas remain a green haven all year round. While everyone else is freezing, you can relax at home with your beautiful plants.
Dedicated to creating an army of cacti, succulents, poodles and cats to help me conquer the world. In the little free time I have left, I play, write and dance.