Bringing Plants Indoors for the Winter

When the weather gets cold there are many garden plants that be keep inside. This guide is about bringing plants indoors for the winter.

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HouseplantsThe end of a summer vacation can come as a shock to some, especially to the tropical houseplants we put out on the deck and patio to reinvigorate over the summer. Once temperatures start to dip into the mid-40s (in some cases 50s), they start to risk becoming injured from the cold. Moving them from full sun and chilly nights spent outdoors to a dim and toasty room indoors can be quite a shock. Here's how to safely reintroduce them to life indoors for the winter.

Reintroduce Them Slowly

A week or so before moving your full sun plants back indoors, move them into the shade. Even the sunniest window inside your home receives lower light than your plants have been used to getting outdoors. By transitioning them to an area receiving less light before moving them indoors, you're likely to see fewer yellow or dropped leaves from the sudden adjustment to a different light intensity. This will also help them prepare for changes in humidity, air circulation, and temperature. Hint: This is also a great time to clean your windows-both inside and out!

Clean Them Up

Give your houseplants a good cleaning by removing any dead or damaged leaves, or spent flowers. Follow that up with a gentle shower from the garden hose. This is a great way to dislodge the first round of bugs and dust off their leaves before bringing them inside.

Inspect Them For Hitchhikers

Once indoors, insect problems that went unnoticed all summer can suddenly spiral out of control. To prevent this, inspect the stems and leaves of your plants (including the undersides) diligently. Submerging smaller plants in a 5-gallon bucket of water for 15 minutes is a great way to send insect scrambling for higher ground. This shouldn't be done with plants that go semi-dormant or dormant in the winter (e.g. succulents, bulbous plants), as these plants need dry soil throughout their dormant period.

If insects are problem, treat plants with the appropriate organic insecticidal soap or horticultural spray. Repeat the treatments as directed (usually several days or weeks). Once you finally move them indoors, as an added precaution you should continue to isolate them from the plants in the rest of your house for several weeks.

Repot Them

In necessary, repot crowded or leggy plants into new containers. Leggy plants can be removed from their containers and pruned (roots and tops) in equal proportions. Make sure you scrub the pots thoroughly and replant them in fresh, sterilized potting soil.

Reduce Feeding

Plants tend to receive less light and therefore most grow more slowly once they are brought back indoors. Now is the time to reduce the strength and frequency of your fertilizing regime. If your plants go into a semi-dormant or dormant state over the winter, stop fertilizing completely and resume fertilizing once you see signs of new growth.

Increase Humidity

Humidity levels tend to be much lower indoors than outdoors. This is especially true once our furnaces kick in. As your plants adjust to life back inside, it may be beneficial to mist them frequently or set them on a humidity tray (a tray filled with water and pebbles). As the water evaporates, it will raise the humidity around the plants.

Watch Your Watering

Overwatering is the fastest way to kill a houseplant. Outdoor potted plants may have required frequent (even daily) watering during sunny, breezy days. Now that they are back indoors, they don't need as much water-especially during rainy, or cloudy fall weather as they won't get enough light to dry out. Always let the surface of the soil get dry to the touch between watering.

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It will soon be time to bring plants in side for the northern gardeners. A boot tray makes an excellent floor for your plants to drain on. They are inexpensive and will protect your furniture or floors.

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Every year I enjoy my potted flowers all summer. So much so that I try to bring something indoors to winter over. One year it was green onions and chard, and one year it was petunia seedlings that had volunteered under the parent plants.

This year my creeping jenny has really gotten huge. It had an impatients in with it which got frosted. So now there's a creeping jenny in my one and only sunny window. Maybe I'll put in my little ceramic angel. They'd look nice together.

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I have 2 big Boston ferns hanging outside that will need to be brought in for the winter. How can I keep the leaves from falling off and keep it alive through the winter?

Vickie from Earle, Arkansas

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Ferns take in alot of water from the air around them. I would mist them lightly every day as winter air in a home is extremely dry.

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What should I spray on my houseplants before bringing them back inside?

Andrea from No. Turner, Maine


Just Bring Them In

I have never sprayed any thing on mine. I just bring them back inside. Though I have mine up on a porch.

By sandy63

Use Caution With Toxic Chemicals

I have been putting plants out for the summer and bringing them in for winter for many, many years and never spray anything on them, with no problem. Don't use toxic chemicals for no reason. Many pests can be knocked off by hosing off with plain water, but I haven't even had to do that.

By OhioGirl

Clean And Repot

I just clean off dead leaves and stuff, repot if necessary, water with soapy water if there are ants (Dawn will kill them), and bring mine in.

By susanmajp

Use The Bathtub

I put mine in the bathtub and hose them off. I've been doing this for years and have never had a problem.

By Lori

Dividing Asparagus Ferns

I hose them off, repot if necessary. My many asparagus ferns will need replanting this year, I know, so I shake 'em out of the pot and use an axe, yes,an axe to hack 'em apart. I get very STRANGE LOOKS from the neighbors! Can we say "Lizzie Borden"?

By BellaNell

Use Dish Soap To Get Rid Of Pests

When I bring my plants in from outside or from work, I always take them from the pot, clean all soil off of them and then use dish soap to clean the roots as well as the leaves. If there are any little hosts living on the plants, the dish soap kills them and you don't bring them in the house with you.

By Karyn01

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I'd definitely spray lightly but thoroughly with alcohol, wait ten minutes, then spray with plain soapy water and let plant leaves dry. The two sprayings should take care of most things. Remember that many will go into shock from the change of temp, lighting, and air, so do it gradually, if you can.

Start by turning them all the way around right where they are. Then move them after a few days of that new direction towards the door to your home. Next into the shade nearest the door for a day or two, finally you are ready to place near a window inside, or to the final resting place n o t near a vent, fan, fireplace, or gas jet. Plants will curl up and die quickly with that condition.

Try to keep them in as close to the same conditions they had outside as possible. If you must leave for a trip, cover them with clear thin plastic with toothpick holes in the top of the plant for their oxygen exhaust to rise and leave from their "breathing". Be sure to leave a lot more holes around the bottom edge of the plastic for it to suck carbon dioxide in. Don't leave plastic on it more than two weeks. This cuts down on drying out.

However, know your plants needs and habits well enough that you don't over or under water or fertilize. If it is a blooming tropical, it will possibly bloom in the winter or go dormant, depending upon how far you are from the tropics.

If a ficus, it will loose it's leaves when only slightly moved or wind blown and look dead but will grow them back over time and has not died unless it has been over or under watered, or over fertilized.

If a plant is a very slow grower, don't give it fertilizer often, but instead, spray it's leaves with fish emulsion, but water when dry soil. Remember this has an odor cats like. To smell and try to eat. Most plants are poison. Use good judgment.

If it's a fast grower, it's also a big eater, needing more fertilizer, benefiting most likely from egg shells and a little used coffee grounds once every other month.

If it's an annual, it will likely need more sun than you can provide, so don't be surprised if it gets leggy or loses most leaves and finally dies. Do no water or fertilize often. Let it rest and tell you when it needs water by the droopy or curled leaves. If leggy after a few weeks, move it closer to natural sunlight, but not in a hot window.

If a cactus or succulent, just let it dry out and water sparsely, with practically no fertilizer other than wal-mart

cactus juice.

If an ivy, and dark leafed, it will grow most anywhere other than a closet. Same with a prayer plant, but both need lots of water. Varigated leaves require more light.

If an unknown, find out by networking or taking a leaf to the local garden center and asking the oldest or the manager what kind it is and what it needs to survive indoors in the winter.

All plants are different, need special attention, cannot be treated the same. The healthier the plant, the less pests.

Indoor climate, temp can be deadly especially if there are many plants competing for the same air, so scatter them throughout the house nearest to sunny windows. If no sun, good luck. I've kept them alive for several weeks with only lamp light, but they got ugly and sickly, wasting my money and time because of my lack of knowledge/experience back then.

If you purchased it from the indoor part of a garden center, it needs to be grown indoors, even if it grows ok outdoors. If from the sunny front of the center, keep it in lots of sun. This is the rule, but some centers hire folks who don't know much and this is confusing to purchasers.

Don't try to grow trees indoors unless you know all about them, have high ceilings, and good lighting, or the tree needs semi-shade. Same with shrubs and evergreens.

Prayer plants, airplane plants, ivies, and sheflerras seem to do best in my darker home with little natural light because it faces west and has few windows.

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I would like to bring my fern inside for the winter, but I don't want to bring any insects inside with it. Should I spray my fern with some solution to get rid of the insects before bringing the fern inside?

By Barb B

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If the fern is in the ground, leave it where it is because it's acclimatised and will be fine-it may look dead with winter but will perk right up in the spring.

If it's in a container, first give the soil a good soak with the garden hose and while you're doing that, spray the undersides of the fronds by tilting the hose nozzle up from underneath the fronds to blast (but gently) the critters out. I say gently because you don't want to blast off the spores on the undersides of the fronds-that's your foliage for next year and if you knock them all off you will shorten your ferns life.

If you see any critters escaping the unwanted bath, you could then follow up by using a drop of a very mild soap and water mixed to spray the soil and the fronds (including from underneath to avoid giving 'hitchhikers' a place to hide). You can find the size spray bottle I'm talking about at the dollar stores, etc.

Let the pot drain completely before moving it inside, and think about getting help if it's a large pot:)

I'm including a link with answers to lots of fern questions by a horticulturalist:

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Plants IndoorsSummer break is almost over for tender perennials and houseplants that have been vacationing on the patio. With cooler weather starting to move in, it's time to start preparing them for the big move back indoors. From a plant's perspective, a move of only a few feet can be potentially stressful-in some cases, even deadly. To keep your plants healthy going into winter, you need to reintroduce them to indoor conditions in the same way you introduced them to the conditions outdoors-gradually.

Reverse Hardening

To plants that have spent all summer in an outdoor environment, an abrupt move indoors is akin to stepping off a spaceship onto another planet. To avoid stressing them (or worse), try to prepare plants for their new environmental conditions by acclimating them over a period of a few weeks before moving them completely inside. This is called reverse hardening. In the same way you harden off a plant before moving it outdoors, reverse hardening accomplishes the same process for the move back indoors. If seasonal changes cause you to bring your plants indoors before they've had enough time to adapt, use a transitional zone between your indoor and outdoor space (e.g. garage, porch, or basement) to finish the reverse hardening off process.

Inspect For Insects

Before moving your plants indoors, inspect them carefully for insects-especially those that have been sitting in pots on the ground. It is much easier to treat insect problems while plants are still outdoors, and you don't want to risk introducing any headaches to the rest of your otherwise healthy indoor plants. As an extra precaution, lift plants out of their pots to detect whether any pests have crawled in through drainage holes in the bottom. Treat insects by spraying the plant's foliage with water or a mild insecticidal soap over a period of three days before bringing it indoors (remove soap residue promptly each day to avoid burning leaves). A pot submerged in a pail of tepid water for a few minutes will send hidden bugs scrambling for dry land.

Dim The Lights

It's impossible to mimic the intensity of outdoor sunlight indoors, but we can try. To acclimate plants to weaker indoor light conditions, gradually reduce their light levels while they're still outdoors. If they've been growing in full sun, move them to partial shade for a for part of the day, gradually moving them to full shade and finally indoors. Once inside, try to duplicate their preferred outdoors light conditions with as much natural light as possible. This is a great time to clean your windows! If you need to provide artificial lighting to supplement natural daylight, fluorescent (not incandescent) lighting is best. Be prepared to see a few leaves drop as plants adjust to lower light conditions.

Ration The Food & Water

Most plants need less water and fertilizer in the winter because their growth tends to slow down in response to the lower light and temperature conditions. Water plants weekly or when the soil becomes dry to the touch. Unless the plant is showing a lot of new growth, it isn't necessary to keep fertilizing. This is especially true if the plant has been recently repotted. Plants kept growing vigorously by means of artificial lights should be given a water soluble fertilizer monthly and watered more frequently.

Raise Humidity

With the exception of succulents that hail from arid environments, indoor air is much too dry in the winter for most plants. Keep plants away from heating vents and fireplaces and mist them regularly to prevent leaves from drying out. Groups plants together on waterproof trays filled with small pebbles and water to help keep the surrounding air humid as the water evaporates.


If plants have outgrown their present containers (roots coming out of drainage holes), or the soil has become hard or encrusted with salt residue, now is a good time for repotting. Tall leggy plants should be removed from their pots and their crowns and roots trimmed in equal proportions. Old pots should be scrubbed clean and the soil replaced with a sterilized commercial potting soil. New containers should be only 1-2 sizes larger than the previously outgrown containers.

When To Move Plants Indoors

Many tender plants risk serious injury from the cold when nighttime temperatures drop below 45º F and most tropical plants below 40ºF. Because weather is unpredictable, it's best to play it safe. When temperatures start to drop below 50ºF for more than a few hours each day, it's probably best to move plants indoors. Other plants, like orchids, should be moved indoors when temperatures start reaching the 55ºF-60ºF range.

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Home and Garden Gardening House PlantsMarch 18, 2013
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