After spending a summer nearly empty, my solarium is now nearly full of plants again. Photo: laidbackgardener.blog
Well, after a week of cleaning plants to remove any insects and lugging them back inside, I’ve finished bringing my some 300 houseplants back indoors. And it’s high time: nighttime temperatures are starting to drop below 50 °F (10 °C), a bit chilly for tropical plants; plus the meteorologists are predicting a more cool nights than warm ones over the next two weeks.
I could have gotten this done faster if I’d taken full days to spend on it, but, as a freelance writer, I long ago learned to keep strict working hours, 5:15 a.m. to 5:15 p.m., minus a lunch break, come what may, and work 7 days a week (it takes those kinds of hours to make a living in my field), so only allow myself the right to care for my plants in the evening.
The few plants still outdoors are the ones that, like cacti and certain orchids (Cymbidium, notably), like a cool fall. They’ll be brought in before the first frost. Indeed, sometimes I bring them in overnight if an early frost is annnounced, then put them back outside a few weeks more if the following nights are expected to be warmer, depending on the weather.
One of the rare nice things about this year of the COVID crisis was that all my evenings are free. Normally, I have two or three lectures per week at this season, and they usually means I usually have to rush to get my plants in. This year, they’re all canceled, letting me work on my plants at a leisurely pace. I’m enjoying this so much I’ve added to my agenda a “no engagements” period for the first week of September, to be renewed annually.
I just love it when my home is full of plants: “my own personal jungle” I call it. Especially in a climate like mine where there is a 6-month winter. I have no need to flee to the South for the cold season like so many of my compatriots do. Plants give me tropical warmth all year long!
With the days getting shorter and the nights getting a tad chillier, you can tell that fall is on its way. And before it arrives, it’s time to bring in the houseplants that have spent their summer outside. Philodendrons, palm trees, hibiscus, etc.: if you carried them out of the living room at the start of summer and placed them outdoors on your patio or balcony or even integrated them into your flower beds, now is the time to seriously consider bringing them indoors again. The same goes for the herbs that can successfully be overwintered indoors, like bay leaf and rosemary. And many annuals are salvageable too: begonias, coleus, pelargoniums (geraniums), fuchsias, etc.
If you want to save these plants, now is the time to think about it.
When to Bring Houseplants In?
Obviously, the local climate will be an important factor in deciding when to bring plants back indoors. Where temperatures drop early, as in Canada and Scandinavia, you should probably bring them in before mid-September, but in other regions, such as southern Europe and the southern United States, there may be no cold before November. And of course, if your climate is tropical, you won’t have to bring in your plants at all.
To know when bring them in, just check out your local weather forecast. As soon as nighttime temperatures start to drop even a smidgen below 60 °F (10 ° C), it’s time to act.
Why only 60 °F (10 ° C)? I mean, that’s well above freezing! True enough, but remember, it’s not just frost that tropical plants fear. They don’t like cold at all … and most houseplants are indeed tropical. Even when nights are just a bit cool, these plants already start to react: leaves turn yellow and flowers drop off. Some may even go into a state of shock from which they never recover.
However, if you bring them in before the temperatures drop below 60 °F (10 ° C), often the transition goes ahead without the slightest negative reaction.
Bring in Your Plants, Not Their Pests
So far, so good, but how do you bring plants indoors without the unwanted insects and other pests hitching a ride? Fortunately, it’s not that hard to do. Here’s how:
First, give them a thorough cleanup. Remove dead and yellow leaves, trim branches that are too long, etc. Then, hose down the entire plant with a strong spray of water. That will actually be enough to kill or wash off many insects, but … why take chances? So, after this, spray the plant with insecticidal soap (available at any garden center). Do not use dishwashing liquid: it often contains products that are toxic to plants.
Make sure the soap solution reaches on all exposed parts of the plant and especially the undersides of the leaves and leaf axils, two places where insects tend to hide.
So much for treating the leaves, stems and flowers. What to do with insects and other critters that may hide in the soil?
You can remove soil pests simply by immersing the pot in a large bucket of water to which you add a bit of insecticidal soap (about 1 teaspoon per quart/liter), then leave the root ball to soak for 10 to 30 minutes. You may need to put a brick or rock on top of the root ball to keep it immersed. Then remove the pot from the bucket, let it drain well, then wipe the pot clean before bringing the plant in. Soapy water will kill just about any little creature that might have been hiding in the soil.
Or Take Cuttings
Of course, it’s possible to dig up annuals like begonias, coleus, fuchsias and pelargoniums from the garden and pot them up, and then give them the treatment shown above, but it’s often easier just to take cuttings. Plus, this way, you bring in a smaller plant that will take up less space.
Taking stem cuttings from appropriate annuals (here is a list of annuals you can grow from cuttings) is simple enough. Start by clipping off a terminal section of stem about 4 to 8 inches (10–20 cm) in length, depending on the size of the plant. Remove the lower leaves and any flower buds or flowers. Now immerse the cutting in soapy water and swish lightly to eliminate any pests that may be hiding there. Let the excess moisture drip off.
Prepare a small pot of moist potting soil and insert the cutting into it up to the second node (bulge on the stem where a leaf was once attached). For woody (hard stemmed) cuttings, such as hibiscus and fuchsia, apply a rooting hormone to the lower end of the stem before you insert it into the soil to stimulate faster rooting. Cover the cutting with a “mini-greenhouse”: a clear dome or clear plastic bag. It will maintain high humidity and thus reduce stress to the cutting, inducing faster rooting. Now place the cutting in a well-lit location, but not direct sunlight.
Cuttings from succulent plants (cacti, euphorbias, sedums, etc.) don’t need a mini-greenhouse (unlike most plants, they don’t like high atmospheric humidity). They’ll root better in open air.
When new leaves appear, normally within a month or so, the cutting is rooted and will now be able to live on its own. Just remove the bag or dome and place the young plant in a location that best suits its needs.
During winter, water your plants when the soil feels dry to the touch and maintain good atmospheric humidity for any with thin leaves. Place in as brightly lit a spot as possible, as fall and winter sun is usually weak. If the location is dark, use a grow light to complement or replace the sun. After you bring your plants indoors, hold off on fertilizer: they won’t be needing it until the days lengthen again in March.
Bringing plants back indoors: not as difficult as it seems!
Your houseplants may be enjoying their summer outdoors, but at some point you need to consider bringing them back in! Photo: Pilea, http://www.pinterest.ca
What goes out must come in. That’s the rule with houseplants you’ve put outside for the summer. Hibiscus, palms, cactus, ferns: they all enjoy a summer outdoors, but eventually you have to bring them indoors, usually long before fall frosts occur.
But when, exactly?
Here’s a simple tip on that subject. Bring them in while you’re still opening your windows at night.
Once you start finding evenings getting too chilly and closing the windows at night, that’s a sign it’s also becoming too cold outdoors for your houseplants. So, give them a thorough cleanup (read Bring Your Plants Indoors Without the Bugs for more information on that subject) and bring them back indoors!
You don’t open your windows? Here’s another way to look at the subject: if you find you need to put on a jacket in the evening when you step outside, then it’s becoming too cold for tropical plants to be outdoors.
It’s the same tip, really, but just a different way of looking at the subject.
Any houseplant that summers outdoors necessarily has to come back indoors again in the fall. But when?
Be aware that many tropical plants adapt to the cool nights and high humidity of fall without much trouble, but when you suddenly bring them back indoors to a vastly different environment, the hot, dry air created by heating our homes (the situation in October and November), they’re in for a major shock. Often leaves start to turn yellow and drop off.
That’s why it’s best to bring tropical plants back indoors very early, in early September or even at the end of August, when the humidity and the temperature outside and inside are pretty much equal. That makes for a smooth transition, with no shock or leaf loss.
Okay, it may still seem hot and summery outdoors, but for how long?
Early September is the ideal time to bring the houseplants you placed outside for the summer back inside. For a smooth transition, you’ll want to do this when the nights are still warm. If you wait until the nights start to become chilly, the plants will become acclimated to that and may react badly when brought back suddenly into the warmth, losing leaves and flowers. It’s better to make the transition between outdoors and in when the conditions in both environments are essentially identical… and in many climates, that’s early September.
Of course, there are a few exceptions, houseplants that are more subtropical than tropical and that therefore actually enjoy cool to cold (but not freezing) temperatures in the fall. You can leave these out until frost truly does threaten. For more on the subject, read Some Houseplants Like It Cold.
If the plant has grown considerably over the summer, you might want to prune it back before you bring it back inside… or to repot it into a larger pot.
And in some circumstances, it’s easier take cuttings and bring them indoors rather than the whole plant.
Rinse your plants thoroughly with a fairly strong jet of water to get rid of dust, grime… and most bugs. Then, to make sure you got all the critters, spray both sides of the leaves with insecticidal soap.
So much for the foliage. To eliminate the insects hidden in the soil, plunge the pot into a tub of soapy water, and soak the roots for 15 to 30 minutes (use rocks or bricks to hold the pot underwater). Soap is toxic to insects, but does little to no damage to the roots, so the treatment should dispose of any unwanted underground intruders.
Next, let the pot drain and bring the plant back in. Yes, it’s that easy!
I know, I know, it’s only the beginning of September, your outdoor gardens are thriving and autumn seems soooo far away, but… the time has nonetheless come to think of bringing the houseplants you placed outside for the summer back indoors.
Why so early? Because plants adapt better to the transition from outdoors to indoors when conditions are similar. Presently its fairly hot and humid outdoors and fairly hot and humid indoors: your plants won’t feel the change! If you wait until cool nights set in or, worse yet, frost threatens, the shock of leaving a damp (as outdoor temperatures drop, humidity tends to rise) and cold outdoor environment to a warmer, drier indoor environment can easily lead to a massive drop of leaves and flowers. At the very least, plants so treated will tend to sulk and look unhappy. So, it’s better to start soon, before mid-September in colder areas, and before mid-October in milder ones, even though outdoor conditions may still seem nice and warm.
Bring in Plants Without the Bugs
But how can you bring houseplants indoors without bringing unwanted critters in along with them? But it’s actually not that difficult. Here’s what I do… and I bring in literally hundreds of houseplants: about 300 or so.
Most plants – the ones I don’t feel are likely to host bugs – simply get a thorough rinse with a garden hose spray gun, plus a good wipe-down of their pot.
For plants that I know have chronic insect problems, like fuchsias and pelargoniums (whiteflies love them!) or hibiscus and palms (prey to spider mites), just dousing them with water will not be enough. I give them a thorough spray with an insecticidal soap solution too.
Then come the hard cases. If I have any doubt the plant may infested with something more serious, such as mealybugs or scale insects, I carefully wash them leaf by leaf with a cloth soaked in a solution of insecticidal soap, then I rinse well. Plus, they go straight into quarantine indoors.
As for controlling soil insects, I just immerse the pot in a large bucket of soapy water (insecticidal soap is less harmful to plant roots and therefore the best soap to use) and let the root ball soak for half an hour. If you try this, note that it may be necessary to put a brick or rock on top of the rootball to keep it underwater. Afterward, remove the pot from the bucket and let it drain well. Combining 30 minutes of drowning with the presence of insecticidal soap ought to overcome even the toughest pests.
A Few Final Steps
Make sure you wash the pot, not only the sides but also underneath, with soapy water to remove soil, algae and foreign matters. And pick off yellowing leaves and anything that has fallen into the pot (dead leaves, small branches, etc.) Finally, since many plants grow considerably while outdoors, you may need to do a bit of pruning to bring them under control or repotting, if you feel they’ve become too big for their pots.
And there you go! Just a few efforts as you bring your houseplants back indoors and you’ll find they’ll grow happily and insect-free in your home right through the winter!