It’s easy to be complacent during the mild days of autumn, but be assured
that winter is on our doorstep. If you haven't already, it's time to bring
those tender houseplants indoors.
Nighttime temperatures are now dipping into
the forties and our first expected frost is only a few weeks away. Many
common houseplants are tropical species and need tropical conditions to
survive. Reference books tell us that 50 degrees is an average minimum
temperature for good culture.
Before bringing plants indoors, give
the leaves a good shower, either in the bathtub or with a strong spray
of the hose. This will dislodge any critters that may have made a home.
A thorough watering will leach out excess fertilizer salts as well as many
soil-dwelling insects. Be sure to clip off any dead or yellowing leaves
and branches. Some plants may have overgrown their bounds and will require
heavy pruning to fit them back into indoor spots. However, be careful not
to over-prune flowering plants or you may cut off the next bloom cycle.
Other plants may also have become
root bound, but fall is not the best time for major repotting. As the daylight
hours decline, most plants will enter a period of rest and repotting disturbs
this process. However, I will occasionally replace the top one-inch of
soil with fresh, a process known as top-dressing. Also, begin to gradually
reduce the amount of fertilizer you use. I do not fertilize houseplants
at all during the months of December and January.
Most plants will suffer a bit of shock
when brought inside, so don’t be surprised if they sulk a bit at first.
Just understand that you are moving them from ideal conditions of high
humidity and perfect light to the virtual desert of most heated homes.
Misting with a hand-held sprayer will never hurt but unless you do it 50
times per day, it won’t help either. Outdoor humidity levels are very difficult
to replicate inside. One option is to run a humidifier, which may benefit
people, too. Another is to use pebble trays. Set a large tray of small
pebbles or aquarium gravel underneath your plants and keep it filled with
water. The evaporation of the water can help raise the humidity levels
around the plant.
One common houseplant that can stay
outside a little longer is the Christmas cactus…or as I call it, the Valentine
cactus. Cold night temperatures are what trigger these plants to flower.
I bring mine back inside after the first frost. And with any luck, I have
flowers by February.