Home and Garden

Home and Garden: Houseplants and Humans - Humidifying the Indoor Air in Winter

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Indoor air in winter can be as dry as the desert. Find ways to humidify the atmosphere for the benefit of both houseplants and humans.

The arid indoor air of winter flakes our forearms, splits our fingers, scales the scalp, and sears sinus tissues. If humans experience the discomfort of low humidity caused by central heating systems in winter, how must houseplants be faring? The native habitat of most houseplants is tropical South America, Africa and Asia where humidity levels of 60 to 80 percent are the norm. In winter the indoor humidity of most homes and offices is 20 percent, less than the Sierra Desert. Our homes and places of work are desiccation chambers.

How might we add humidity to the interior atmosphere? Below are some tips for humidifying the surroundings to benefit both humans and houseplants?

Sauna-like Rooms

The rooms in a home with the highest humidity levels are the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room. Relocating houseplants to where the water is can benefit the plants. The teakettle or iron spouting steam adds moisture to the air. Plants perk up when placed in a steamy shower or laundry room.

Huddle Formation

Grouping or clustering foliage plants together in a room creates an invisible moisture bubble around them. As plants transpire through the stomata on their leaves, the moisture released creates a microclimate simulating the tropics. Additionally, if you place the huddled plants in trays of pebbles or gravel filled with water so that pots set on the gravel and above the water, the evaporating water adds humidity to the entire room.

If you canít place plants over pans of water, setting out decorative vases filled with water throughout the house adds humidity for the dermal system of you and your plants. Top off with water regularly.


The surface of the potting soil in houseplants in a warm indoor environment tends to dry out rapidly giving the impression that the plant needs more water. Although it is tempting to water the plant, refrain until testing beneath the surface. Unaware of what is happening at the root zone, you may inadvertently overwater the plant. Before reaching for the watering can, dig into the soil an inch or two with your finger. If the soil is moist, do not add more water. Overwatering is the number one cause of houseplanticide. Houseplants are low-maintenance and may not need watering but once every 10-14 days.

Misting Plants

Misting plants with a spray bottle using tap water that has set out for twenty-four hours to remove the chemicals or rainwater is only a short-lived burst of vapor and a temporary fix. Misting twice a day may assist the plant but will not add enough vapor for humans. Using a portable room humidifier among plants is a better tactic and it benefits plants and people.

Keeping the leaves of houseplants clean is important to their respiration, photosynthesis and transpiration in addition to appearance. Dust leaves with a clean soft cloth. Velvety leaved plants like African violets may be brushed with a paint brush. If leaves have not been dusted regularly, wash surfaces in a mild soapy solution and rinse with clear water.

Indoor Winds

Keep houseplants away from drafts around doors and windows. Plants should be away from heat vents, air conditioning units and fans both ceiling and portable, all of which dry the air.

While itching for ways to humidify the environment of houseplants in winter, you just might make the indoor atmosphere more comfortable for family, pets, and co-workers.