Do you know that feeling you get during fall and winter when you just want to stay inside? Plants go through a similar experience named dormancy. While your favorite plants might look dull during this period of dormancy, this period of rest helps them prepare for an active growth period.
Dormancy refers to a period of inactivity in which plants rest or conserve resources in preparation for growth in the next season. For example, plants go to dormancy to protect themselves from extreme weather conditions, such as winter or drought, and to increase their ability to endure stress.
Read on to learn about what plant dormancy is and how you can care for your plants during this period.
What Is Plant Dormancy?
It includes the stages of the growing season in which the plant slows down and rests. Dormancy also protects the plant by protecting it from harsh conditions such as frigid temperatures and extreme stress, such as drought.
In the fall, deciduous trees shed their tender leaves, leaving their tough bark and wood to endure the winter cold. The metabolic processes of the trees have been slowed, and a tree no longer grows or reproduces until spring and more temperate weather returns. When new leaves appear, the tree will receive nourishment from the sun, enabling it to grow and reproduce.
The plant may enter dormancy following shorter days and consequently less daylight, or after cooling off, or after either of these parameters. The plant may also enter a state of dormancy when faced with extreme heat or drought, so that it can recuperate when more favorable conditions become available.
You may need to move houseplants to a cooler, darker part of the home if they are kept in relatively stable home conditions.
For example, Poinsettias and Christmas cacti should be given time to rest before blooming. They require cooler temperatures, less water, and long, dark nights in order to prepare for flowering. They will develop buds once they have been dormant for long enough to recharge their batteries, so to speak, before they can be planted in their regular location to bloom again.
Impact of Plants’ Dormancy
It is almost universal that plants will put up a show for the winter, regardless of whether they are indoor tropical plants or outside. Annual plants, however, die off every year, but do not regrow in the spring. Annuals only live for one season.
During the winter months, plants go dormant to conserve resources and protect themselves from freezing. Tender leaves would freeze in the cold, so deciduous trees decline these leaves, allowing their roots to be nourished, and preparing to grow new leaves in the spring.
The indoor plants in your home will also go dormant, even if temperatures are stable. Their natural cycle is affected by the shorter days and less light. There is not sufficient sunlight hours to allow photosynthesis to occur to convert sunlight into the energy plants require to grow and reproduce. Instead, metabolic processes slow down, the plant’s reproduction stops and growth is greatly slowed.
Why Go Dormant?
In spite of appearing to be dying or drooping, plants are still fully active during the dormant season. Plants will breakdown and replenish proteins to get ready for the growth they experience in the spring. Additionally, outdoor trees and plants will conserve energy to nourish their roots.
When the plants do not rest during the winter, they may lack the resources they need to grow, bloom, and reproduce in the spring.
What Happens To Plants When They Enter Dormancy?
During periods of dormancy, houseplants may simply appear to stop growing, as if someone were pushing a pause button on growth. They may lose their leaves completely, change color, or droop all together.
The plant will cease to bloom and reproduce, and it will take in less water, so that the soil will stay moist for a longer period of time. These plant behaviors give plants a break and allow them to recharge and prepare for a new growth season.
During the winter, plants such as bulbs that flower in the spring will die, and they are then left only with a bulb hidden underground. The bulb stores up energy to grow again in the spring. In the absence of dormancy, the bulbs would not be able to store enough energy to bloom the following year.
During the winter, deciduous trees lose their leaves and may appear to have died, whereas evergreens retain their needles but their growth slows or stops altogether. This protects them from damage resulting from cold weather.
How Can You Tell If Your Plant Is Dormant Or Dying?
Plants that have gone dormant or are dying can be detected with three simple tests.
Snap test. The snap test can be used to tell if a plant is dead or dormant. Choose a branch or stem that is about the diameter of a pencil and snap the end in half. Branches and stems that are dead will snap easily and look dried out, while dormant branches will bend and, when split open, reveal moist wood inside.
The Scratch Test. Scratching leaves and stems can also reveal if your plant is dormant or dying. Have your fingernail or a sharp knife ready and scratch at the bark of a young stem. There should still be green on the plant, while brown means the plant is dead. If there is no green, try again, but closer to the roots.
Root Inspection. You can also check the roots of your plant to determine if it is dormant or dead. Dormant plants have healthy roots even if the remainder of the plant appears dead. When necessary, you can remove the potted plant and check to see whether the roots seem healthy or shriveled and dead.
How Does Plant Dormancy Affect Their Care Requirements?
During the winter dormant season, your plant will either cease to grow completely or will grow very slowly. This comes with a change in care requirements.
In the winter, overwatering is a common reason for plant death, since your plant’s metabolism is slower, so it’s not consuming as much water as it would normally when it’s growing. The growth phase of your plant will require much less watering than the development phase.
Prune. Trim your houseplants’ old leaves, dead branches, suckers, and other branches that are undesirable during winter dormancy.
Refresh the soil or repot. If the potting soil of your houseplant gets worn out, you’ll need to repot it into a larger pot if necessary. Winter dormancy is a good time to repot the plant with new potting soil.
During this time there will be minimal stress, and it will then be ready for growth in spring.
Don’t fertilize. Fertilizing doesn’t make sense during the dormant season. It’s better to wait until spring and early winter to see how much growth has begun.
Increase humidity, if needed. It is common for humidity to drop in winter when the heat is turned on or wood stoves are burning.
In order to keep plants that prefer a very humid environment alive, you may need to increase humidity. An easy way to achieve this is to set the plants on a tray filled with pebbles and water.
Keep them clean. As dust accumulates on leaves, light is reduced, further limiting your plants’ ability to grow.
Spend some time gently cleaning them.
Keep them away from drafts. Although they are dormant, tropical house plants may still get cold drafts. Avoid keeping them in front of cold windows and doors.
Watch For Signs Of New Growth
It’s a good sign for your plant that the days are growing longer as spring approaches. As your plant moves from its dormancy phase to its growth phase, you’ll see signs of growth on your plant. It’s time to water and fertilize your plants again. Fresh blooms and branches will help them prepare for spring growth again. You will notice that buds appear soon, little bits of growth, or new blooms and branches.