When frost threatens, it’s time to move many of your outside plants indoors. Many tender bulbs, annuals, herbs, and tropical plants will only survive the winter inside. Here’s advice onwhich plants to bring indoors this fall and how to winterize plants andpots.
Whento Bring PlantsInside
True annuals and plants that we grow as annuals (considered tender perennials insouthern regions) cannot survive cold winter temperatures. But there’s no need to say farewell to these plants forever! Many “annuals”can be brought inside, even tender plants that need a winter dormancy period. These should ideally come indoors before nighttime temperatures dip below 45°F (7°C).As fall approaches and night temperatures reach about 50°F (10°C), start bringing the plants inside for thewinter.
Most tropical plants will suffer damage at temperatures below 40°F (4°C), a few even below 50°.You will need to act well in advance of any actual frost or freeze to acclimatethem.
Where to PutPlants
Even though we have a greenhouse attached to the house that gets plenty of sun and the temperature in there doesn’t usually drop below 45°F, I still have a hard time finding room for everything. Luckily for me, many of these plants would undergo a dry period in their native lands and don’t mind being shoved under a bench to rest.
The greenhouse fills up fast, especially when the pots arebig.
If you don’t have a greenhouse and have a lot of plants that need high humidity, think aboutcreating a shelf or area to group these plants together.Some folks mist their indoor plants and—while this does help—it only lasts for a short period. A better long-term solution is the use of a pebble tray under your plants. Line the trays with waterproof material, add a layer of gravel, and place the pots on top. Keep the gravel moist.If you have hanging plants, perhaps you want to install some ceiling hooks. It’s also a good idea to clean yourwindows—both inside and out—to ensure that plants will get adequate light thiswinter.
Which Plants To BringInside
You may need to make somechoices about what’s worth keeping and bringing indoors.Which plants are your keepsakes? Which are the most expensive to replace? Also, keep only the healthy plants and not plants with disease or pest problems.Your indoor lighting will be important, too.In winter, even a west or south facing glassed area has only the winter light intensity of a shady area in thesummer.
Plants which can be brought inside fall into twogroups:
- Plants that require a winter dormancyperiod.
- Plants that can remain actively growing through the wintermonths.
This canna will get a winter rest when it is cut back and driedout.
Plants Requiring WinterDormancy
Some tender bulbs require a “dormant” time in a cool place where the temperature is still well above freezing. Many of these bulbs are expensive and worth over wintering. Examples of tender bulbsare:
For tender bulbsin pots, just stop watering them, cut off the dying foliage, and tuck them away in a dark, cool, spot. Check the soil moistureperiodically.
For tender bulbsin the ground, dig them up and cut the foliage back. Brush off as much soil from the bulb as possible by hand. Place them in a warm, dry area for 7 to 14 days to dry. This removes excess moisture. Pack them loosely in a cardboard box or open container, separated by shredded newspaper or dry peat moss. Tuck away in a cold, dark place. Pot them up in the spring about a month before you want to put them outside for a jump on theseason.
Read my post on how to store tender bulbs for winter.
This Bolivian begonia will keep blossoming for a few weeks indoors before it drops its leaves for the winter. We have kept the tubers going, in the same pot, for severalyears.
Plants That Keep Growing inWinter
Many of my annuals, herbs, and tropical plantswill keep growing through the winter and some will even reward me with a bloom or two. These will need a prime spot in the sun, but they don’t seem to mind the cooltemperatures.
- Geranium (if given plenty oflight)
It’s best toacclimate the plant to a lower lighting level for a few days before moving them fully indoors. For example, move a plant that’s in full sun outdoors to a shadier area outside. If your plants have been used to bright light, try to put them in similar light indoors,like a south window or under plant lights on a timer for 16 hours a day. Do not be too worriedabout leaf drop as the plants adjust to interior conditions; they willrecover.
Also, if yourplant needs some pruning to temporarily reduce its size, prune it before bringing itinside.
Thishibiscus will sulk and drop its leaves eventually, but perks right back up inspring.
The fuchsia are a bit of a bug magnet, so I cut off their leaves and water the roots just enough to keep them living. In spring they will start up again with fresh new growth and be in bud when it is time to go backoutside.
The cymbidium produces its first flower stalk as soon as we bring it in and will bloom for much of thewinter.
We keep the geraniums blooming all winter as well, but if you lack a sunny place for them you can let them go dormant by cutting back by about half, putting a bag over the top and watering only if they begin to shrivel. Some people even remove them from their potand hang the bare-root plants upside-down in a dark, cool place, spraying with water occasionally to keep them from shriveling up. Soak the bare roots in the spring for several hours to rehydrate them and thenrepot.
If a combination worked well and you want to repeat it again next year, take somecuttings.
Get Rid ofPests
To make sure I’m not bringing in any unwanted visitors, I rinse all the leaves down with a vigorous spray of water and check the pots all over, especially under the rim, for bugs, slugs, cocoons, and eggmasses.
As soon as they are observed, treat an infestation with an insecticidal soap or other insecticide labeled for these pests. I try to spray all the leaves down with a soapy spray made from 1 tsp. of non-detergent soap (I use Dr. Bronner’s liquid lavender mostly because it smells so good) mixed with water in a 1 qt. spray bottle. Spider mites have a 7 to 10 day life cycle so weekly spraying usually halts their growth. If I notice whiteflies, I’ll put up some yellow sticky cards to catch them. Don’t forget to spray under the lip of the container as well as the bottom of the container where insects canhide.
Indoor Plant CareTips
Don’t over-water! This is the most common cause of death for indoor plants, which really don’t need much water in wintertime.Let the top 1/2 inch of the soil get dry to the touch before watering again.If in doubt, don’t water. Water succulents even less often, when the soil has been dry for several days. Don’t water incloudy or rainy weather, as plants won’t get sufficient light indoors to dryout.
Plants require little, if any, fertilizer during the winter months due to lower light intensity levels. Fertilize in the spring, just before new growthbegins.
You can save yourself a bundle by overwintering some of your expensive tropical plants. If you have more plants than window space allows, offer them to a gardeningfriend!
This pink mandevilla was given to me because it was too large for my friend to fit on a windowsill and she could not bear to throw itout.
Just to be on the safe side, I also take cuttings of some of my favorites—like the iresine, begonias, geraniums, impatiens, and coleus. All will root easily in water and make attractivehouseplants.
If you lack space to store pots over the winter, cuttings are a wonderful and inexpensive way to create moreplants.
To take a cutting:
- Choose healthy shoots and trim them back about 2 to 3 inches just below a leaf node. Remove any lower leaves and flowerbuds.
Insert the cutting in amoistenedrooting medium—such as coarse sand, vermiculite, or sterile potting mix (which typically contains both peat and perlite). Also, insert at least one leaf node below the medium surface. Tip: It is optional, but consider dipping the cutting in a rooting hormone prior to planting. It may help the odds ofsuccess.
Place the cutting in bright, indirect light. Maintain an even moisture level. Covering the container with a plastic hood or clear bag will reduce overall moistureloss.
Rooting typically takes one to three weeks, depending on the plant. Once the roots are well developed, you cantransplant to a largercontainer.
Moving Plants Back Outside inSpring
In spring, your plantswill start to send up new growth and you can drag those pots back into the sunlight and resume watering them. If needed, I will give them a new pot with freshsoil.
To be on the safe side, wait until after the last frost to move them backoutside.
A Few More WinterizingTips
- Plastic and wooden containers can be left outside for the winter. Terracotta clay containers, however, may crack and should be broughtinside.
- Before the temperature drops to freezing (32°F / 0°C), disconnect gardenhoses from any outdoor faucets. Fully drain the hoses and screw the ends together to keep out any insects and debris. Then store them under the deck or in thegarage.
- Good tools are expensive! Spend the time to take care of them properly.Clean tools with a wire brush and sharpen the surfaces. Apply a coat of light oil or product such as WD-40 to metal surfaces. Wipe wooden handles with an all-purpose cleaner and apply a light coating of wood preservative.See how to care for and sharpen garden tools.
Read more of my tips on fall garden clean-up.
Here is more advice on preparing your garden for winter—from the vegetable beds to rose bushes totrees andshrubs!
Plants That Keep Growing in Winter
These will need a prime spot in the sun, but they don't seem to mind the cool temperatures. It's best to acclimate the plant to a lower lighting level for a few days before moving them fully indoors. For example, move a plant that's in full sun outdoors to a shadier area outside.
- Step 1 – Figure Out What You Want to Bring Inside. ...
- Step 2 – Gather All Your Supplies in One Place. ...
- Step 3 – Groom and Trim Plants. ...
- Step 4 – Check for Insects. ...
- Step 5 – Refresh Your Soil. ...
- Step 6 – Repot If Necessary. ...
- Step 7 – Water with a Deep Soak. ...
- Step 8 – Bring Your Plants Inside.
Debugging and cleaning potted plants before bringing them back inside is a crucial step to avoid houseplant bug problems. Aphids, mealybugs and other types of houseplant insect pests aren't normally a problem when potted indoor plants are outside.How do you bring in plants from outside without bugs? ›
Debugging potted plants before bringing them back indoors is a critical first step in indoor plant pest prevention. This method of soaking houseplants in soapy water to get rid of the bugs works great for most types of plants, and will help to make sure you bring outdoor plants inside without bugs.How cold should it be before I bring my plants inside? ›
WHEN TO BRING PLANTS INSIDE. As a general rule, tender plants should be brought in when nighttime temperatures are below 50 to 55 degrees F, even if they are hardy for your zone.What do you spray on plants when bringing them inside? ›
Both insecticidal soaps and neem oil are gentle and safe, yet effective. You can also apply a systemic houseplant insecticide into the soil of the plant and water it in. This will get absorbed into the plant when you water, and will provide continued pest protection even after you bring your plants back indoors.Can I use Dawn to debug plants? ›
It's not recommended to use dish detergent (like Dawn), laundry detergent, or hand soap (even the “natural” versions), since these soaps contain abrasive ingredients that could harm your plants.Can outdoor plants survive indoors? ›
Good news, plant lovers: the end of the outdoor gardening season does not have to mean the end of your container plants. Although most will not survive the winter in cold climates, they can be brought indoors as houseplants to help them make it through the colder months.How do you keep outdoor potted plants alive in the winter? ›
Wrap pots in burlap, bubble wrap, old blankets or geotextile blankets. It isn't necessary to wrap the entire plant because it's the roots that need shielding. These protective coverings will help to trap heat and keep it at the root zone.Is it better to cover plants or bring them inside? ›
Cover them during the cold hours of night. During the day, the soil absorbs the heat from the sun. By covering plants in the evening, the covering captures the heat the the soil re-radiates out into the night.
Though vinegar can be fatal to many common plants, others, like rhododendrons, hydrangeas and gardenias, thrive on acidity which makes a bit of vinegar the best pick-me-up. Combine one cup of plain white vinegar with a gallon of water and use the next time you water these plants to see some amazing results.Can a plant survive in a room without windows? ›
Plants need sunlight to photosynthesize, produce flowers and fruit and for overall health. That being said, plants are also uniquely adaptable, and many vigorous specimens are perfect windowless houseplants.Can I leave my plants alone for 2 weeks? ›
Well-watered houseplants will last for days, even a week, on their own. If you're heading out for a short time, give them a final drink just before you leave and move them out of sunny windows or hot rooms.How do I make my plants not attract bugs? ›
Air movement around your plants is really important to help keep the humidity level from getting too high, but it also prevents bugs in another few ways. Increase ventilation accelerates drying of the soil, and decreases fungal growth, making your indoor plants a less hospitable place for bugs to live.How do you make sure there are no bugs? ›
- Seal Your Doors.
- Add Screens.
- Maintain Your Yard.
- Repair Cracks.
- Seal Around Pipe Penetrations.
- Cover Large Openings.
- Don't Invite Bugs To Dinner.
- Store Trash Properly.
- 1 tablespoon horticultural grade neem oil.
- 1 tablespoon horticultural grade insecticidal soap (or liquid dish soap, such as pure castile liquid soap — not dishwashing detergent)
- 1 gallon water.
- The rotting stems and roots are the signs that your plants are too cold. ...
- When plant cells are damaged by frost, they lose their rigidity, and you see droopy or curled-up leaves.
- Another sign that your plants are too cold is the discoloration of leaves.
Light freeze - 29° to 32° Fahrenheit will kill tender plants. Moderate freeze - 25° to 28° Fahrenheit is widely destructive to most vegetation. Severe or hard freeze - 25° Fahrenheit and colder causes heavy damage to most plants.Is 38 degrees too cold for plants? ›
Experts recommend that you bring your plants indoors when nighttime temperatures drop to 45 or 50 degrees Fahrenheit. But it may be better to act well before that, when indoor and outdoor temperatures are about the same.How do you check plants for pests before buying? ›
Changes in leaf color or texture can signal an insect problem. Leaves may become spotted, speckled or yellowed when insects are present. Leaves might also become distorted or misshapen, often looking cupped or pinched. You may spot webbing draped along leaf undersides or where leaves attach to stems.
- Grab a bottle of 3% hydrogen peroxide and mix it with water. ...
- Place the plants into the solution for 20 minutes. ...
- Take the plants out of the solution and rinse them thoroughly in the sink.
- Place them into a container with dechlorinated water or straight into the quarantine tank.