Whether us Washingtonians want it to or not, winter comes, bringing frosty temperatures and a slow death to many beloved outdoor plants and grasses. Though you may be grateful to store the lawnmower for the season, watching your favorite rose bush or hydrangea wither is depressing.
Most gardeners understand that frost death is natural for some outdoor plants, but indoor plants are a different story. During the summer, garden enthusiasts bring warm-weather potted varieties outside to enjoy the sun on a deck or porch. As autumn approaches, houseplants need to be brought back indoors to survive.
However, failing to follow the proper steps when bringing plants inside can actually hurt your blooms’ health. A rapid transition and improper care can kill your plants almost as quickly as sub-zero temperatures.
Use this step-by-step guide to properly acclimate your plants to their indoor environment. With a little effort, you can protect your favorite greenery through the chillier months and have a green head start next spring!
Before Bringing Plants Indoors
1 – Prep the Plants
Take time to prune and purge your inventory before moving your potted plants indoors. The first frost in the Washington DC area can be as early as October 21st, and will most certainly happen by November 8. So monitor the weather and plan accordingly.
If a plant was struggling to survive in the summer, it will likely do even worse indoors. Cut your losses and compost plants that aren’t healthy.
Furthermore, don’t bring in plants with pests or disease since these problems can spread quickly to other growths in an indoor environment. The DC area is particularly prone to lawn and plant disease due to our hot, humid summers. You may be able to treat infested leaves with neem oil, but to be safe, consider leaving infected plants outdoors. Finally, prune back overgrowth or wilted leaves before bringing plants inside to ensure optimum health for the big move.
2 – Choose Wisely
Obviously, houseplants should come back inside for the winter, but some outdoor plants can be brought in as well. Some species, like geraniums, begonias, and fuchsia do fairly well in an indoor environment. Even vegetables like tomatoes and peppers can produce fruit all winter in the right circumstances.
When choosing which plants to rehome, remember that not all species are meant to come inside. More tender perennials prefer to lie dormant in a mild winter, like lavender and rosemary. Do plant-specific research before deciding to move outdoor plants indoors.
During the Move
1 – Transition Gradually
Though it may be tempting to spend a single afternoon moving plants from your porch or garden to an indoor space, resist the urge to make a quick transition. Instead, let plants adapt gradually and naturally.
Once the outdoor temperature reaches 50 degrees – typically mid-October in the mid-Atlantic regions – or colder at night, start bringing potted houseplants in the house after dark. Most houseplants will die in temperatures below 45 degrees, so this strategy will protect them from wilting and leaf loss. Bring these plants back outside in the morning, and spend about a week switching the plants twice a day. Gradually increase the amount of time plants spend indoors so that they can adapt to the warmer, dryer, and less sunny indoor environment before living inside full-time.
2 – Choose A Good Location
Different plants have different needs, but all species still need some amount of sunshine to survive. Even shade-loving plants still need ambient sunlight. Ideally, plants should be kept near an uncovered, south-facing window. You can rotate the plants every now and then to make sure each is receiving enough light.
However, mind the air temperature near the window panes; poorly insulated sills let in deadly drafts that might damage your blooms. Sometimes, radiators and heaters are located near windows, which can also overheat or dry out your plants. During the first few weeks, check the plants’ environment every day to make sure that the location is not harming your greenery.
Once Plants Are Inside
1 – Adjust Your Caretaking Routine
Plants have different needs in a sheltered environment, and you’ll have to adapt your caretaking schedule accordingly. Outside, sunlight causes water to evaporate more quickly, so plants need frequent and thorough waterings. Indoors, there’s less sun, and plants grow more slowly, so you’ll need to water them less often. As a general rule of thumb, only water plants when the top two or three inches of soil becomes dry. Since indoor environments tend to be less humid, try spritzing leaves with water twice a day to prevent the tips of the leaves from drying out.
2 – Prepare for the Spring
Once outdoor temperatures remain over 60 degrees Fahrenheit day and night, you can begin transitioning plants back to an outdoor environment. Remember to slowly increase time spent outdoors to avoid shocking the plant and damaging its health.
With so many steps involved, bringing plants inside can seem like a lot of work. However, this late-autumn chore can actually benefit your health! Studies have found that common indoor-outdoor plants like rosemary, sage, garlic, and parsley can boost your immune system and help you fight the flu when used in teas, steams, and more. Studies find that indoor plants improve mood, reduce stress, and even improve indoor air quality.
Help your own health and your plant’s health, and bring your garden indoors! Follow the steps above to ensure your plants survive and thrive in your home this winter. After all, science shows that plants make good company.
Washington DC residents – what tips do you have for bringing plants indoors? Sound off in the comments below.