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Indoor plants that can survive Chicago winters

 plants on sill
Those of us who love growing things seem to appreciate indoor plants even more in the cold months than we do in the spring. And yet, during cold Chicago winters, even indoor plants can find it difficult to survive, let alone thrive.

I recently discovered a Curbed Chicago article by Megan Turchi on this topic — and thought I’d share some of this information with you.

Turchi lists eight houseplant varieties that are particularly suited for a Chicagoan’s indoor garden. I’ve listed seven of them below, along with her comments on each plus, some tips on cultivation and care of indoor plants from experts like Stephen
Hill of Sprout Home and Rhonda Castillo of Christy Webber Farm and Garden.

Seven Plants Hardy Enough for a Chicago Indoor Garden

1. Elephant tree (Operculicarya decaryi)

elephant treeAccording to Stephen Hill, one of the experts Turchi consulted, these are really “nifty small desert trees.” Their leaves even change with the seasons and, in winter, some plants will sprout tiny red flowers. And yet, despite their gnarled branches, these plants aren’t high maintenance.

2. Cacti

cactiSince cacti are from the desert, they’re already primed to handle low temperatures at night. So, they’re able to withstand drafts during winter months spent in a Chicago apartment. In fact, if you give the cactus enough drought and cool air, you might even get it to produce a flower come summer.

3. Succulents

succulentsAccording to Hill, “A lot of succulents can handle cooler temps. Winter for plants is similar to when you take a nap: it prepares you for the rest of the year. If you’re just starting out, succulents are a great place to begin — they are incredibly durable.”

4. Ferns

fernsFerns are another hardy plant. The two factors that most impact their growth are air moisture and light. Since overheated homes can dry out the air in winter, you might want to run a humidifier and mist the ferns on a regular basis.

5. Jades

jadesJade plants, like cacti and succulents, can also tolerate drafts and will do quite well by a cold window. But they do prefer lots of light and are happiest by a sunny window.

6. Cast Iron Plant

cast iron plantRhonda Castillo describes these as “really, really tough plants that will tolerate any sort of lighting.” That’s great for forgetful plant owners and dark corners that need a bit of greenery. Their long, leathery foliage adds the perfect volume and color.

7. Snake Plants

snake plantsAccording to Turchi, the tried-and-true Sansevieria trifasciata is a house plant that seems to live through anything including a polar vortex. It comes in a variety of green shades from deep emeralds to stripes of chartreuse. Castillo adds her own recommendation “From personal experience, I have never had issues with snake plants. They are just tough as nails.”

Expert Tips on Cultivation from Hill and Castillo

The first suggestion that Hill shared with Turchi was regarding a plant’s need for light in order to grow. “Regardless of the time of year,” Hill explains, “you still need to be respectful of what kinds of sunlight your plants need. Some plants can do well in dim light, but others absolutely have to have the hottest sun.”

The challenge is ensuring that plants placed near a window for optimal sunlight are protected from winter drafts. During the summer, plants soak up the warmth and energy of the sun and draw upon these summer reserves in winter by going into a dormant phase.

“Just be careful not to overwater the plants in winter,” Hill warns. “This could lead to root rot because the plants just aren’t using as much energy.”

Hill notes that if you have succulents or desert plants, they will survive near a cold window because temperatures can drop quite low in their native areas. But as a general rule, it’s good to keep any plant away from air vents or drafty corners.

A Tip of My Own

orchidAlthough I don’t have an extensive indoor garden myself, I do grow orchids at home. This winter I decided to follow the advice from an article on how to rebloom orchids using an apple. These plants were from Christmas 2022, and the article said I could rebloom them by putting them with an apple under a plastic grocery bag for a week. I followed this suggestion and a couple of weeks later I got a new flower stalk. Orchids in winter! What could be better!

Hope you find these suggestions helpful. For more ideas, please contact me at 847-912-6319. I’d love to talk to you about ideas for your home and garden — especially for the coming spring.



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