WORDS BY LAURA BAYLISS
As those sunny heatwave days slip into memory and we head towards the colder months, before you know it, you’ll be pulling the curtains at 3pm. While we can cosy up in handknits and giant socks, it’s time to spare a thought for our plant pals. There are plenty of plants who don’t mind a bit of shade and who will be happy enough chilling out during the colder, darker months. But others, like our cacti and succulent friends, will miss all that sunbathing and can have a bit of a wobble as Christmas approaches. Read on to find out who likes to throw some shade this time of year, and how to help the sun chasers.
Snake plants are just about the easiest plants to look after, perfect for the beginner plant parent. They don’t mind low light and only need watering when their soil feels dry – every couple of weeks or so, sometimes even less in winter. They also have the added superpower of storing up all the oxygen they produce during the day and then releasing it when it’s dark – so they’re perfect for a peaceful night’s sleep in the bedroom.
Ferns hail from the dimly floor of the rainforest, making their home underneath a dense tree canopy, so they actually prefer it out of the sun and won’t mind the shorter daylight hours. Although they don’t like to be cold, they also won’t enjoy the extreme temperatures and dry air from having that central heating blasting all day, so keep them away from the radiators. Have a mister to hand to spritz their leaves on the regular – and make sure their soil doesn’t dry out (but don’t let it get soggy). Ferns are particularly happy hanging out in the bathroom (the perves) where it’s steamy and warm – it’s like a mini rainforest in there. With more than 2,000 ferns to choose from you’re spoiled for choice, but we recommend hunkering down for the winter with Boston and maidenhair ferns.
ZZ plant is another excellent housemate to see out the winter with – chilled out and hassle-free while giving plenty in terms of personality and out-there style. Like the snake plant, they only need watering when their soil is dry and won’t mind being in a shady spot, although they do need some light. Give the leaves a little wipe to restore their gleam when they get dusty, but otherwise you can just leave this one to its own devices, then give them a feed in spring.
For the sun-lovers
Succulents and cacti that are native to hot, dry areas of the world aren’t the biggest fans of our northern European winters. And, quite frankly, we don’t blame them. To keep these guys hanging on until spring has sprung, move them to your brightest windowsill – a west-facing window will get the longest patch of daylight. Remember to rotate them so they get an even dose of those sunbeams.
Back in their native habitat, both cacti and succulents thrive on up to 12 hours of sunlight a day, so if yours are starting to flag over winter – or if they are stretching towards the light – you could think about getting a grow light to give them a boost. Just don’t leave the lights on all the time as they could end up growing leggy and thin.
If you think that some areas of the desert won’t see rain for years, when it comes to giving them a drink, less is definitely more: only water when the soil is really dry, especially in winter when they are in their more dormant phase. They will not appreciate wet feet. And they hate humidity, so they won’t be besties with your ferns. Although it’s hot in the desert, temperatures plunge at night so don’t worry about them being cold when the heating goes off at bedtime.
Burro’s tail, Jade plant and string of pearls make great succulent suitors, and cacti-wise, there really are almost too many to choose from, but if you’re looking for a good place to start, the golden barrel cactus or perky bunny ears will look faultless on your bookshelves.