Transitioning Plants Indoors for Winter
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Cooler temperatures and lengthening shadows mean that winter is on the way. We can adjust easily to these changes, but our houseplants need some TLC in order to adapt and thrive indoors during the colder months. Early fall is the time to prepare your indoor plants for the change of conditions inside your house, and is also the time to transition your outside houseplants in.
Indoor plants that have been growing nicely all summer will begin to slow down in the fall, but will still need light, water, and warmth. In order to let them rest but still keep them healthy, you’ll need to make some adjustments in their placement and care.
Most houseplants are native to the tropics, so they don’t like cold air, especially cold breezes. Windowsill areas will be colder than in the summer, so seal up drafty windows or pull the plants away from any cold air flow. But also keep them away from radiators, heaters, fireplaces, or hot air vents! Plants don’t like hot breezes either, and will wilt with the low humidity around sources of heat. The optimal temperatures for houseplants is between 65⁰ and 75⁰F, and not below 50⁰F.
Plants like 50% to 60% humidity, so a humidifier is helpful if you own one. Another way to improve the humidity is to group plants together and set them on top of pebbles in shallow trays of water. Don’t allow the pots to sit in water, though, or else you’ll risk root rot and damage to the plant. Misting the plants daily is another way to increase humidity.
Image Credit: Nancy Maffia
Setting houseplants back from the cold windows and heaters can leave them in areas of pretty dim light as the sun moves lower in the sky. You can supplement the diminishing sun and keep them alive with a grow light or a full-spectrum incandescent bulb 12 to 16 hours a day. Maximize their ability to catch the light by cleaning off their leaves. This is a good practice any time of the year, but is especially helpful in the winter. Giving the windows a good cleaning, too, will help maximize the available rays. Also, remember to rotate the plants daily to make sure all sides capture the available light and keep them from growing to one side.
Water and Fertilizer
Lower amounts of sunshine cue plants to slow down and require less water and fertilizer. Reduce the amount that you give the plants and only water when the soil is dry an inch down from the surface. (Hint: Only give your plants lukewarm water — never cold, and never, never ice cubes!) Fertilize less often or not at all in the winter since the plants are not actively growing.
Modifying the indoor growing conditions in the fall is important for your plants. Check them frequently for signs of stress, and by trial and error you will come up with the best environment for your plant friends.
The houseplants that you brought outside for the summer will need to come in for the winter, and they will need some transitioning time to make it safely back inside. Early fall is the best time to do this before temperatures drop below 50⁰ F.
Image Credit: Viktor Forgacs - Unsplash
Check for Pests
The first thing to do for your plants’ journey indoors is to check thoroughly for pests and diseases. You won’t want to spread an infestation all through your inside garden! Look on the upper and lower sides of the leaves, the leaf axils, the stems, on any flowers, and on the soil. Use a magnifying glass to see if you’re not sure. It’s helpful to gently hose off the stems and leaves to knock off any hitchhikers, and then treat any remaining pests that you see. Some common ones to watch out for are mealybugs, whiteflies, aphids, and spider mites. Insecticidal soap or neem oil will often do the trick, but make sure they are completely gone before bringing the plants indoors. If you suspect a soil infestation, submerge the pots in water just below the rim. This will flood the pot from the bottom and force any creepy-crawlies up and out of the soil. (Hint: Be sure to let the soil dry out after flooding it before you water your plant again.)
Reduce the Light Step-by-Step
Over two weeks’ time, move the plants to increasingly shaded areas before bringing them in. This will allow them to acclimate to the reduced light indoors. They may drop some leaves but remain otherwise healthy. This is to be expected.
Repot or Prune
Your plants may have grown during the summer, so you may want to repot one size up before they come in. If you’d prefer them to be smaller and more compact, you can prune back both stems and roots up to half of their growth.
Once the outdoor plants have joined their companions indoors, follow the same guidelines for warmth, humidity, light, water, and fertilizer as for the indoor plants. Remember that they will want to rest during the winter and will need your care to remain healthy until spring.