Tips to Welcome Your Houseplants Back Inside for the Winter

Once the days grow shorter and nighttime temps dip toward 50 degrees F, it's time to bring the houseplants back indoors.

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Cold temperatures and frost will damage or kill houseplants you kept outside in the summer, most of which claim roots in tropical climates. Bringing those plants indoors before winter arrives lets you enjoy their summer growth and appreciate a bit of the tropics on cold winter days. Here are our tips for success.

Inspect the Plants

Look for insects along the stems and on the leaves, especially the undersides. Lightly brush the potting mix surface to make sure no critters are hiding there. Inspection is important because the last thing you want is to introduce insects to other plants in your home.

Three Common Insects

Aphids can be different colors and are usually found along stems and new growth. They are tiny and rarely move. Many times, the easiest way to control aphids is to give them a strong spray with the garden hose outdoors, or in a bathtub or sink. It may take a couple of sprays.

Another common but more challenging insect is the dreaded fungus gnat. It can show up inside or outdoors. The primary cause of fungus gnats in houseplants is usually saturated soil. This flying and crawling insect is called fungus gnat because it can spread disease from plant to plant. Serious infestations usually require treatment with an insecticide. But the first step is to allow the soil to dry out.

Mealybugs have a waxy covering that almost makes them look like cotton strung along the stem or leaves of plants. That waxy shell makes them difficult to control. Use a cotton swap and isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol to dab on the insects and rub them off.

Treatments

If you are concerned about insects, isolate plants before reuniting them with other plants in the home. If necessary, treat bugs with an insecticide, fungus with a fungicide and spider mites with miticide — or try a three-in-one product. Make sure the product is labeled for use on houseplants. Always know what plant problem you have before you treat it and always read and follow the label directions.

Tidy Up Plants

When inspecting your plants, snip off any spent flowers or discolored leaves. This removes anything that could harbor fungus. The result is a clean-looking plant, ready for its indoor stint.

Shower Time

Even if you don’t find insects or diseases on the houseplants, give them a shower to wash off any dust and debris. Use an outdoor hose or shower the plants in the bathtub or a sink.

Fertilizer and Water

Most houseplants do not need fertilizers in winter. Water needs also are reduced. Less sun, less growth, less water and fertilizer needed. An exception would be flowering plants. Apply fertilizer as directed on the label.

Prepare Their Indoor Home

Wash the windows to allow as much light in as possible. The sun is lower in wintertime so light may extend into the room beyond the window, providing more space for plants. Set out any plastic saucers or other waterproof protection for furniture, windowsills and the floor.

When watering houseplants, water until it runs out the bottom of the pot. Empty the saucers after a couple of hours to prevent mold growth on the soil.

Leaf Drop

Don’t be alarmed if leaves drop from the plants you bring indoors. They are adjusting to less ambient light. Keep an eye on plants for a while after their return indoors to make sure no insects or diseases appear.

Try to give them as much light as possible for a week to 10 days before moving the plants to their indoor home. Acclimating them is as important when moving houseplants indoors as it was when you moved them outdoors.

Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp is speaker, freelance writer and editor. She's worked 20 years at a large independent garden center, and trials about 100 plants a year. President of GardenComm: Garden Communicators International, she blogs at hoosiergardener.com