By Linda Cornish Blank, Extension Master Gardener
After moving houseplants outdoors in late spring for the warm summer months, once fall sets in it will be time to move houseplants back indoors.
When to Move:
It’s best to move houseplants back indoors between mid-October and early November, before nighttime temperatures are consistently below 50° F. Before taking them inside, however, you’ll have some prep-work. Allow time for a few important steps so your plants can make a smooth transition.
Where to Move:
First, ready your indoor spaces, shelves, tables, windowsills, and plant stands where your houseplants will overwinter. Select spaces with adequate sunlight. Sun-loving plants are best placed near south or west facing windows; plants requiring lower light levels can be put in east facing windows. Place plants away from HVAC vents; they don’t tolerate drafts. Take into consideration that plants have grown over the summer and will need more space once back inside. In addition to making room for my plants, I ready my mid-century pottery to receive the plants housed in plastic pots. These decorative containers enhance the plants’ appearance. Finally, take advantage of the beauty that houseplants bring to your home. Put them where you will enjoy them.
Preparing the Plants:
Inspect each plant carefully. Look for damaged leaves and stems, spindly growth, plants that are pot-bound, that is, having extensive root growth out of the pot’s drainage holes, and most importantly pests. I have over 30 plants to move indoors, so I set up an assembly line for these tasks.
- First, trim off spindly and damaged growth. Spindly growth can be pruned and cuttings propagated or composted. Place damaged growth in the trash.
- Second, repot pot-bound plants. Use a container approximately 1” larger in size for repotting or divide the plant into several smaller plants and pot in individual containers. Use a good quality potting mix. For plants requiring repotting, you’ll be able to visually check for pests.
- Third, before creating new houseplants through propagation or division, consider the number of plants your home can accommodate. Having just readied your indoor space, you’ll know the available space. Houseplants make nice gifts to share with family and friends, so this may be an option for newly created plants.
- Fourth, inspect each plant’s leaves, stems, and soil surface for pests. Remove large insects by hand. Check the drainage holes of each container, removing slugs or large insects. If you find extensive pest infiltration, dispose of the plant in the trash.
- Finally, wash the plants to remove debris and get rid of pests on the plants and in the soil. Be sure to brush debris off the outside of each plant container during the cleaning process. You’ll want to undertake this task on a calm, non-windy day.
Lightly spray the leaves and stems of each plant with a hose. Prepare a solution of water and insecticidal soap according to label instructions. Read the insecticidal soap label for the list of plants for which the soap can be safely used. Fill a spray bottle with the solution. Pour 2”- 3” of the solution into a tub. Put plants which can be washed safely with the solution in the tub. Gently splash the solution on the soil surface and spray the leaves, upper and lower surfaces, and stems. Allow plants to soak in the solution 30-40 minutes. Remove the plants, spray with clear water and allow them to dry.
If insecticidal soap cannot be used, use diluted dish soap. Follow the same process described above.
What to Expect
Moving houseplants back inside requires the plants to acclimate to their new environment. Keep in mind that each time you move plants they will experience an acclimatization period. For the first few weeks indoors, plants are likely to change little in appearance. This is a good time to enjoy the beauty of your houseplants as they are lush and colorful. After this initial period, they may develop some leaf yellowing and experience minor defoliation as they adjust to lower light, lower humidity, and temperature change. Plants should stabilize within another 10-12 days.
Fertilizing and Watering
Once indoors, plants require fertilizing and watering less often than when they were outdoors. During the winter months, most plants have reduced growth rates. You may want to lightly fertilize plants when you first move them inside to provide nutrients to the soil and for overall plant health. Be sure to read and follow fertilizer label instructions. Plants need not be fertilized throughout the winter months.
Overwatering leads to root rots and is the number one reason houseplants die. Check the pots regularly for moisture levels. Twice each week is probably a good starting point. In deciding when to water, try to allow most of the soil to dry out like a freshly wrung out dish cloth. Not bone dry, but not too moist. Feel the soil by pushing a finger an inch or so below the surface. If the soil is still moist, no further water is needed. Water devices or water meters also simplify watering.
Monitoring is key to caring for your houseplants. While most plants aren’t actively growing during the winter, they should maintain a healthy appearance. Ensure the plant is receiving adequate light, don’t overwater, remove yellowed or dried leaves, prune spindly stems, and check leaves, stems, and soil for signs of pests. Houseplants can brighten our indoors space. With a little care, you can enjoy indoor greenery throughout the winter months.
- Clemson University Cooperative Extension Home & Garden Information Center. “Indoor Plants – Moving Plants Indoors & Outdoors.” Factsheet HGIC 1454. September 21, 1999.
- Colorado State University Extension. Plant Talk Colorado. “1332-Moving Houseplants Outdoors.” Accessed April 2021.
- PennState Extension. Pest and Disease Problems of Indoor Plants. February 15, 2019.
- University of Georgia Extension. Growing Indoor Plants with Success. Bulletin 1318. Published with Full Review May 27, 2020.
- University of Maryland Extension. Indoor Plant Diseases. “Winter Indoor Plant Problems.” May 24, 2021.