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How To Move Your Plants Inside for Fall/Winter

If you have a collection of plant babies outside in containers or in your garden, it’s time to watch those overnight temperatures closely. The season is changing and low temperatures and frost are on the nearing horizon. Being a conscientious plant parent and gardener, I’m sure you gradually moved your houseplants outdoors for the spring and summertime letting them adjust to the brighter sun and elements outside. Your plant babies are thriving outside, putting on new growth and happily soaking up the full sun and summer temperatures. As the season changes from summer to fall, now is the time to offer your plants the same thought, care, and gradual movement you offered them in spring.

Before you go moving everything inside, there are some important steps you want to take to ensure healthy transit from the outdoors in. I spoke with our head grower and biocontrol expert, Alex Traven, to identify the steps to successfully bringing your plants in for winter.

6 Steps to Successfully Bring Your Plants Indoors

1. Identify what comes inside

2. Scout for pests

3. Treat pests

4. Identify what needs to be repotted

5. Quarantine inside

6. Find indoor homes for each plant

1. Identify What Comes Inside

Most garden plants should NOT come inside

The trend is to create indoor, lush biophilic designs that make you feel like your home is a tropical paradise, but let’s face it – not all plants can come inside for winter. Certain plants need the cold, dormant period of winter to vernalize and set their spring flower buds and growth (think lavender). Other plants will simply hate being inside all winter in dry, low light, and too cold temperatures. The plants that won’t like it inside but also won’t overwinter in your zone, should be treated as annuals (think flowering begonias, geraniums, large foliage plants, funky exotics). I know it’s difficult to say goodbye, and the feeling of plant scarcity might drive an impulse to dig up all your beloved garden plants that you added and loved this year, but for the most part it’s not worth it unless you have an indoor solarium-like environment. Otherwise, thank your Garden Geeks like acalyphas or pseuderanthemum for filling out your beds with color and texture and for bringing you and the pollinators around you much joy and focus your energy on your House Geeks such as variegated Oplismenus, peperomia prostrata, senecios and the list continues!

Probably Better Left in the Garden: Acalypha, Pseuderanthemum, Nicotiana

If you have a plant in your garden that you simply must dig up and bring inside, remember that you want to avoid bringing garden soil inside. Many pests and beneficials alike live in the soil so you want to make sure that you get rid of as much soil as possible and repot into a clean soil medium. It is a good idea to drastically cut back the foliage reciprocally before digging the plant up since you’re disturbing and reducing the root size.

Potted Plants

 Many of the plants you have in containers are likely houseplants that you brought outside to enjoy the summer. This is your most obvious group of candidates to come inside but pause a moment before you bring everything back inside and assess the health of each plant.

Ask yourself:

  • Is the plant healthy looking overall?
  • Is the foliage healthy (free of discolored or dead leaves)?
  • Is it free of obvious pests?

If the answers to the above questions are all yes, then you can move on to the next steps. If the answers are mostly no – then it’s time to make the decision if it’s worth it and how to save it with the next steps.

Bring Inside – Garden Geek/House Geeks below are a good choices: peperomia incana, tradescantia, albuca frizzle sizzle

2. Scout For Pests

At Peace Tree, scouting for pests is a year-round, integral part of our operation. Alex and team do not skimp on the importance of this task, knowing that you need to stay vigilant to keep indoor systems healthy and thriving when it comes to pest management. Now is the time for you to be just as vigilant as you’re bringing in your plants – you don’t want to inadvertently invite a pest party to take over your home!

You’ll often see signs of pest presence before you see the pest themselves:

  • Distorted growth
  • Damaged foliage
  • Shiny, sticky liquid on leaves that can get moldy
  • Foliage spotting or fine webbing

If you see any of these signs, look closer for the culprit!

3. Treat Pests

If you find a pest, take these steps to manage it, keeping in mind that treatment is not a once and done process; you’ll often need multiple applications of treatments and sustained scouting and pest removal to rid the plant of the pest.

  • Heavily cut back the foliage
  • Clean foliage by hand – wiping each leaf down with an alcohol solution regularly
  • Apply horticultural oils weekly – be mindful of sun scald and move the plant to a more shaded location or only apply in the evenings
  • If more natural solutions do not work, Nuke them with broad spectrum applications like pyrethrum and/or spinicide
  • Carefully observe the plant for continued signs of pests

Plant Pest Mega Enemies include: Aphids, Spider Mites, Mealy Bugs, Root Aphid, Root Mealy

There are certain pest infestations that are more or less lost causes. Root mealy is notoriously difficult to treat and can remain on the plant indefinitely. It’s hard to do, but get used to culling your collection, rogueing out unhealthy plants that will infest the rest of your collection. If you have a troublesome pest but don’t want to part with your plant, consider taking cuttings of the specimen to propagate and grow on sans pest. The plant might not be the same size as its parent but there are loads of plants that you can successfully propagate yourself. Learn all about it from Leslie Halleck in her book, Plant Parenting. Be sure to thoroughly clean your cuttings so they’re pest and disease free.

4. Identify What Needs To Be Repotted

Once you’ve determined that your plant is healthy, you should determine if it needs to be repotted before coming indoors. I love repotting things! Instant gratification, it means your plant is getting bigger and it also gets an outfit change. Spring and fall are great times to repot plants. Ask yourself these questions before repotting:

  • Does the plant fill out the pot it’s in already?
  • Are the roots densely crowded?
  • Could the soil medium be healthier or use a refresh?

If you answered yes to the above questions, time to repot with a great potting medium we love our local pals at Organic Mechanics! If it’s a no to most of the above, then it’s probably best to wait until spring to repot keeping in mind that your plant will begin to slow down growth in fall and winter.

5. Quarantine

Quarantine isn’t just for Covid times, quarantining plants when they’re moved is an important step in the pest management process. Hopefully, your pest removal strategy worked and you’re now pest-free but chances are you might have some stowaways that want a warm place for the winter.

  • Quarantine the plants that had pest issues in one area for a couple weeks monitoring that they’re staying healthy and looking out for signs of pest stowaways.
  • For healthy looking plants, quarantine them in another location but for a shorter period of time as long as they stay healthy-looking with no signs of pests

6. Find Happy Locations For Your Plants

Once your quarantine period is over, you can start to distribute your plants throughout the house. Keep a few things in mind when choosing spots for your plants:

  • Group plants that need the most sun together in your brightest spots
  • Humidity loving plants should also be grouped together, consider adding a humidifier
  • Don’t place plants too close to hot radiators or very cold windowsills – they won’t be happy
  • Keep plants out of reach of curious pets

Houseplants are a wonderful way to make your home warm and inviting all year round. With the right planning, observation, and effort, you can successfully transition your plants from the outdoors in, and then back out again in the springtime. Pest scouting and management should be done throughout the year to keep your plant family happy and healthy. Try not to get too sentimental with plants that become infested or are diseased, it is better to separate them from the rest of your plants than to keep and create larger systemic problems. As the season turns from fall to winter and the days get shorter, you can pull back on feeding and watering your plants as they’ll be in semi-dormant or slower growing stages of life.

Get your plants happy and healthy for the changing season!

Oplismenus variegated hanging basket in window