Your Houseplants Should NOT Bug You All Winter!

The recent nighttime temperatures indicate that fall is officially in the air. We are either fortunate or cursed (depending on drought, ice, snow and heat) to live in an area that has four distinct seasons. As gardeners, we are conditioned to make changes along with the seasons and fall can be a welcome respite from summer weeding, watering and pruning. But before you sit back in that recliner and plan your winter hibernation from garden chores, there are still a few tasks left to complete!

It is common practice for many of us to summer our houseplants outdoors. Fall’s cool nights are a reminder to migrate your houseplants back indoors. One of the most common issues we deal with is the potential of insects hitching a ride inside with your plants. For the health of the individual plant and the houseplant collection you have indoors, there things to consider before moving houseplants indoors.

Let me take this opportunity to clarify what you should and should NOT bring in for the winter. This time a year we get so many questions about trying to winter over petunia hanging baskets, or pots of celosia and marigolds. Here is a simple way to handle those plants that you have loved all summer long. First, thank them for being beautiful and flowery and leafy all summer long! They put on a splendid performance in your garden and containers – lets be honest, they made you look good! But now as the days get shorter and the nights cooler something must be done. One of my hands down favorite Grandmother sayings when she advised her customers on annuals in the fall was, “You didn’t name them and they not part of your family, so it’s okay to let some of them go to the compost with the frost.”! I miss her ability to find humor in every situation every single day!

So how is one to decide which plants get to come in from the cold and which are destined for the compost pile? Beyond that decision lies the How To’s of bringing plants indoors without bringing in their problems.

1. Treat for pests

Outdoor plants often become home to ants, pillbugs, or other unwanted creepy crawlies living in the soil and on the foliage. Thoroughly inspect the plants’ stems, trunks, soil and leaves, especially the undersides of leaves, for insects. Hose off the entire plant to knock off any insects, dust and pollen. Allow the plant to dry then spray both the soil and the entire plant (leaves, stems, etc.) with Neem Oil. It is a non-toxic insecticide, mitecide and fungicide, which is safe to use on edibles, like herbs.

For tropicals that are bug magnets like Hibiscus, Mandevilla and Gardenias, apply a dose of Bonide Systemic Houseplant Insect Control into the soil, paying close attention to the dosage and handling. It takes approximately one week for the plant to take up the systemic product and repel insects. The systemic works by being absorbed up into the plant and when insects ingest the plant they also ingest the control. This is the best preventative to keep from spraying insecticide soaps and controls all winter long.

2. Re-pot if needed

This is a task much easier outside than in, right? If the plant has become root bound or the soil has become depleted, this would be a good time to re-pot it. There are two ways to deal with a pot bound plant depending on what you want to achieve. If you are interested in growing the plant larger, bump the pot size up by a couple of inches. Loosen the roots to uncoil them and help them reach out into the new planting medium.f the plant has become root bound or the soil has become depleted, this would be a good time to re-pot it. If you wish to keep the plant to size, trim back the plant and the roots by 1/3 and return the plant to the same pot (or one of equal size). Be sure to wash the pot in a mild solution of bleach and water before returning the plant to its’ pot. Over time soil becomes depleted of the organic matter that plants require and it is best to replace it. You should gently crumble some of the old soil away from the root ball and re-pot using fresh potting soil like a nutrient rich Fafard Potting Mix. Don’t use compost or garden soil and it’s not sterile and you will bring in soil gnats (look just like fruit flies), soil insects, bacteria and fungus!

3. Style your plants!

Choose fabulous containers like baskets, buckets and ceramics to drop your plastic pots into – preserving the drainage while showcasing your plants. Make sure to reinforce the inside of your container with a plastic saucer so they don’t leak. Hang, group, combine, mix and match and/or display at different heights. Plant collections are the new cool!

4. Wash and wipe

Leave the dirt outside. Start by wiping larger leaves with a damp cloth and if leaves are smaller, hose them down. For some big leaf foliage plants, it’s nice to apply a product known as leaf shine – it makes the leaves, well, shine. Do read the label as some plants including dracaena and ferns don’t fare well with this product on their leaves. For cactus and succulents, use air duster or a small paintbrush to clean the leaves. Finally, clean off dust and grime from the exterior of the pot.

5. Foliage plants are easy

Easy care plants that do best indoors are generally varieties prized for their foliage and that can handle lower light conditions indoors are commonly known as foliage plants. General light classifications are low, medium and bright. If you’ve used fiddle-leafed figs, crotons, pothos, philodendron, sansevieria, ivy, spider plant, or just about any other variety of plant prized for its leafy greens or golds, or reds or purples, re-pot and invite them to stay indoors for awhile.

6. Succuents are also welcome indoors

For us cold-climate dwellers, it may come as a surprise that succulents and cactus can actually handle a little cold. Deserts are cold at night! These plants can stay outside a little longer to take full advantage of the sunlight. Be sure to bring them in before they become plant popsicles!

7. Flowering plants are hard!

Some varieties, which require a lot of light, are challenging to overwinter, including tropical hibiscus, mandevillas, jasmine, bougainvillea and citrus. They require a sunny window in a room where air temperature stays about 60-70 degrees and a humidity level between 30 and 45 percent (mist leaves or place a pan of water among the plants).

The ideal winter environment for most flowering tropical plants would be approximately 50 degrees at night and 65 degrees during the day. Don’t be tempted to jack up the heat, as warmer air temperatures can lead to leggy growth and insect problems.

If you plan to let your plants simply go dormant, let them rest in a cool place (40 to 50 degrees F) with little or no light—their leaves will gradually yellow and drop.They can then spend the winter in an unheated basement, unheated garage, or even a cool closet. Water sparingly – about twice per month.

If you want to try and keep them as houseplant and maybe even coax a few blooms (in my experience success is generally a cross between the right conditions and sheer luck), follow these instructions:

Tropical Hibiscus: Prune hibiscus 3 times between now and spring, first at the end of October, then again in December, and in February. Cut back each stem by about 50 percent to maintain good shape, and keep the plant from becoming leggy. Set your calendar reminders and just do it.

Mandevilla, Jasmine & Bougainvillea: They’re likely in flower now, but flowers will diminish quickly as the days shorten. Prune back by about 25% so they don’t have to work so hard to keep their long vines alive. Don’t be alarmed if they drop leaves–just continue to care for them and they will re-leaf in time.

Citrus: Not only do citrus trees and shrubs require a lot of light, they can also grow quite large, so they require a bit of room. Prepare for this in advance as once you find the right spot, you don’t want to have to relocate due to too tight a space. Given the right conditions–placed in a south-facing window with good airflow and if necessary, supplementing sun with a grow light during dark winter months–these will actually bloom in fall or early winter (intoxicatingly delicious fragrance) and set fruit in winter or early spring. It’s a fun process, but oh-so-slow, so prepare to be patient.

8. Watering should be monitored carefully

Be sure soils dry between waterings to prevent root rot. Water carefully. Often our heated homes become quite dry, which can cause plants to lose moisture quickly. However, plants aren’t actively growing during the winter months so they don’t require as much water.Test the soil using the tip of your finger, if the top inch is dry go ahead and water. Practice makes perfect.
Jack’s Classic Houseplant Fertilizer will also help to nourish your houseplants. Maintaining your plants’ health provides clean, fresh indoor air, bug free, during the winter months.

9. My final thoughts and advice.

Know that when you bring your overwintered tropicals back outside in the spring growth and blooms will appear much later in the season then the grab-and-go containers from our garden center. It’s nothing you did wrong over the winter but simply a condition of our much brighter and warmer greenhouses.

Watch for pests. Mealy bug, scale, aphids, and others all show up at the darndest times – like January (how do they do that?). Treat with insecticidal soap or neem oil and reapply the Bonide Houseplant Systemic. Read the directions but be prepared to treat or toss! Growing tropicals indoors is a constant battle with bugs in my experience.

Feeling bad about failure is not allowed, that’s my golden rule and I’m holding to it. It’s not the end, it’s just the beginning of a trip to our garden center for new indoor plants! Remember what my Grandmother said – you didn’t name them (hopefully), they aren’t family and you can just let them go and start fresh with no guilt!

if you have any questions about caring for your indoor plants stop in with either the plant or a picture and we can help! Breathe easy this winter with clean air provided by your own happy, healthy houseplants!

Fall is Fantastic!
Michelle and Team Lakeview