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Winter is a very quiet season compared to the others. The majority of animals go into hibernation, the deciduous trees have lost their leaves in preparation for the colder days, and even the plants go to sleep. Plants go to sleep? Yes – or.. In a way. Today we are going to be talking about a process called “dormancy.” Ready? Let’s begin!

Dormancy is a process found in plants in which the whole or part of the plant exhibits little to no growth. This usually happens in the Fall or Winter, when the days are much much colder and there is less light for them to produce energy. For example, bears hibernate so they can store energy in the colder months during which it is very hard for them to catch their prey or forage for their nuts and roots. They go into a comatose state until the beginning of Spring, where they will resume their normal activities. Because of the lack of sun, plants pause putting out new leaves until Spring or Summer!

What does this mean for our indoor houseplants? Even though they are indoors, they will still fall into dormancy, even your cacti on the windowsill. From Fall/Winter until Spring, they will need less water and monitoring to make sure they are still thriving during the cold months. 

What are the signs that my plant is now in the cycle of dormancy? There are a few signs that your plant has gone dormant. One sign is that they are wilting over. (I would be wilting too if I didn’t have sun to feed me!) A way to make sure that your plant is dormant and not dying is the branch test. You break off a little piece of their branch and if it is green on the inside, your plant is just resting until Springtime. You can see the same results with a scratch test, which is scratching a stem or branch to see if it is green on the inside. If you are doing this test with any ficus, philodendron, zz, or other poisonous plants, wear gloves and wash your hands, the sap of these plants can irritate your skin. Or, you can do the root test. Healthy roots (white not brown) will be a sure tell sign that your plant is still healthy even though the rest of the plant does not look like it is. A less invasive test is noting that your plant has stopped putting out new leaves. For example, my heartleaf philodendron, Castor, has started to put out less leaves, so I know that he is now going into dormancy. Nighty, night, Castor! 

I am sure you are thinking, ‘these are great things to note about how I can tell my plants have gone dormant, Ms. Kate, but how do I care for a plant that is now dormant?’

Well, even though your begonia has stopped growing, it doesn’t mean to stop watering it, it just means to water less than you did before. If you water your philodendron twice a week, water it once instead, this helps give the plant water without causing root rot in the process. If you are unsure about if it is the right time to water your plant again, put a finger at least two inches into the soil. If it is still damp, give it a few more days. Another quick tip is to dust your plants’ leaves, this will allow them to process more light while they are resting. Just use a damp cloth and gently wipe the leaves. Overall, monitor any changes and keep note about your watering days. I know it can get confusing when your schedule shifts, error is human, and sometimes you lose a few plants in the winter. 

Always remember, gardening is a learning experience and there are times when you lose plants along the way, and that is okay! Happy gardening!

For more information about plants, click here

Vocabulary used in the blog: 

  • Comatose: a state of deep unconsciousness. 

  • Dormancy: a period in an organism’s life when growth, development, and physical activity are temporarily stopped. 

  • Deciduous: a tree or shrub that sheds its leaves annually. 

  • Hibernation: a state of minimal activity and a decrease in metabolism

  • Metabolism: the process of making food into energy.

  • Prey: an animal that is hunted for food.