Keep your houseplants healthy and happy by preparing them an indoor winter home now
By LAURA HOLLENSTEIN. Photos by LAURA HOLLENSTEIN.
While you may be enjoying the cooler fall temperatures outside, any houseplants you have on your porch or deck are ready to head inside once the thermometer dips to 50 degrees. But before transitioning them to their winter home, ensure their continued success by taking these five vital steps:
- Inspect the leaves for harmful insects. Spider mites, mealybugs and scale are the three major houseplant enemies. For spider mites, check the underside of the leaves for small, tan or red insects, webbing and leaf discoloration as they extract the chlorophyll from the plant. Mealybugs will have a white, cotton-like appearance and scale have round, brown bodies and a sticky residue.
Whether or not you find the presence of harmful insects, wash the leaves thoroughly (except hairy ones like those on African Violets) with a solution of mild dish soap and water. If you have any of these pests, use an insecticidal soap to control them.
- Tidy up the foliage by pruning stray branches, stems and runners. Indoor plants love the tropical environment of a summer spent outdoors and they show it by the bounty of growth they produce during the warmer months. And while there may be ample room for them to stretch out on the porch or deck, space may be at a premium in your home, so prune any stray or dead branches on ficus or other indoor trees, keeping a uniform shape. And trim back leggy stems to the soil line on aglaonemas. Trailing runners on plants such as pothos should also be trimmed to the soil line to encourage new growth on the top of the plant, for a lush and full look.
- Repot or add soil as needed. The greenhouse conditions of summer can result in not only an abundance of foliage growth, but root growth as well. So before bringing plants indoors, check the drainage holes for escaping roots and repot as needed to just the next size larger container. For example, if your houseplant is now in an 8 inch pot, replant it in a 10 inch pot and not a larger one which can lead to root rot if too much water is applied to the soil. And use a high quality, lightweight potting soil for indoor plants.
If you find that your plants are not in need of repotting at this point, make sure they have a fresh layer of soil on top of the current soil to add nutrients during the winter. And when adding soil, leave enough space from the top of the soil to the top of the pot so that water is easily applied and doesn’t roll off and down the side of the container.
- Apply the final fertilizer of the year. With the main growing season for plants being spring through fall, fertilize one last time with an all-purpose indoor plant fertilizer. And never fertilize a dry houseplant. Doing so can burn the roots. Make sure there is some moisture in the soil before making the application.
- Determine the proper indoor location for each plant based on light level. With each houseplant having its own individual light requirements, familiarize yourself with what each plant needs in this regard. While a ficus tree will need the sunniest spot in the house (a south or west window), an aglaonema or pothos will be happy with the indirect, lower light of a north or east window.
A good rule of thumb for plants with medium light requirements is if you can read a book during the day with the light being turned off, then there is likely enough light for the plant to live.
The above steps can also be applied to any non-winter hardy herbs or tender annuals, such as begonias, that you want to keep for next spring. But be sure to provide the maximum amount of light indoors for these plants, preferably a south or west window.
A six-year Big Canoe resident, Laura Hollenstein is an interior landscape professional by day and a freelance writer by night. Watch for more articles by Laura on gardening and other topics in upcoming issues of Smoke Signals.