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Winterizing Houseplants

7 min read | Dec 3, 2012 | Plants 

Winterizing Houseplants

Believe it or not winter is quickly drawing near and that means its time to start thinking about preparing your houseplants for the season ahead. With warmer temperatures outside, it’s understandable that winterizing your houseplants is one of the last things on your mind. But by taking the proper steps in advance, you are helping to ensure the prevention of problems that commonly occur with houseplants throughout the winter months.

During early fall, the leaves get ready to change to their annual fall hues of reds and yellows, the nighttime temperature begin to drop and there is a sudden feeling of winter on the horizon. It is then, during early fall (before first frost), that has proven to be the best time of year (in the Raleigh area) for preparing houseplants for overwintering conditions. As nighttime temperatures begin dipping below 50° F, houseplants that have been kept outdoors for the summer season can begin to show signs of cold stress.

Aside from houseplants, a few common annuals can be overwintered indoors as well, which can lead to an even bigger and nicer plant in the landscape next year. These plants include but are not limited to, bougainvillea (bougainvillea glabra, orange to right), princess flower (tibouchina urvilleana, purple below), bleeding heart vine (clerodendrum thomsoniae, red and white below), boston fern (nephrolepis exaltata, green no flowers below), spiderwort (tradescantia zebrina, purple and greenish-grey foliage below), and hawaiian snowbush (breynia disticha, red, white and green foliage above). These are the
most common annuals brought inside, however, this is only a small example as far as possibilities are concerned. The type of plants you bring inside are only limited by your ability to provide the proper care needed for the plant to survive.

One critical factor, and also the most obvious, in caring for plants indoors is providing the proper amount of light. Before bringing your plants in for the winter, be sure to check into what light requirements they have. If it is a high light plant, chances are its going to grow better near a south-facing window where it will get a lot of light. If it is a low light plant, then it will be happier a little further away from the window, but do not attempt to keep it in complete darkness! Remember, it is a plant so it does need some light!

After you have decided where you would like to keep your plant, it’s a great time to clean the inside and outside of the window to promote as much light as possible. After the plant’s new home has been determined it’s time to bring it in, right? Well, hold on, not so fast. Before you bring your plant indoors, make sure to check for diseases and insects; that way you are not introducing those critters into your lovely home. Look for anything out of the ordinary, such as dead or dieing leaves, blotches, spots, spider webs, etc. Most insect problems can be dealt with by applying a simple oil-based insecticide that is completely safe for indoor use. Other insects, such as scale and mealy bugs, can not always be eradicated by sprays. These insects often require a granular systemic insecticide that is taken into the plant via the roots and travels throughout the entire plant;
eventually the insecticide is eaten by the insect. These systemics are perfectly fine and safe for your plants, but the same can not be said for the insects they treat.

For diseases, a similar systemic method can be used to help remedy the problem. There are many systemics that treat both insect and disease problems, though Bonide is a company that provides competitive prices and jaw dropping results. If you believe that something unusual is going on with your plant (that may be insect or disease related) feel free to bring in a branch sample and let our knowledgeable staff give you a free diagnosis. Just place your sample in a plastic bag so other plants are not infected!

After addressing disease and insect issues, it’s wise to check to see if your plant needs to be repotted. The best way to do this is to see if it is root bound; simply remove the plant from its current container and check the condition of the roots. If a large mass of roots are visible and they are beginning to grow in a spiral direction around the pot, then you know its time to repot the plant. The size of container your plant is currently in will be the deciding factor when choosing the size of container the plant is being transplanted to. For example, if you have an 8” sized container with a plant that is severely root bound, most likely a container that is 10” to 12” in diameter would be the best choice.

When repotting a root bound plant into a lager container, it is important to break up the roots to discourage that spiral root growth which can eventually girdle the plant, causing it to die. A good rule of thumb is that you can remove about 1/3 of the plant roots without hurting the plant itself. Depending how root bound the plant is will determine how much the roots need to be broken up and how much of the root will need to be removed. Remember, if you are hesitant to remove some of the roots, Fairview’s expert staff will glad to help you repot a plant at our potting shed located in the greenhouse. Once the plant has been repotted, it is the perfect time for providing the plant with its fertilizer needs. Osmocote makes a slow release fertilizer which comes in pellet form. The pellets slowly release fertilizer over a period of three to six months and are activated by water, which acts as a solvent and allows the fertilizer to work its way into the plant.

When bringing plants from outside to inside, it can not be stressed enough how critical it is to acclimate the plant to its new climate. The best way to do this is to make sure it is near a sunny window for the first few weeks. The drastic light and temperature change can be detrimental to the plant’s integrity. By putting the plant near a sunny window for a few weeks, it gives it a chance to stay warm in the day, cooler at night and gather as much light as possible to make it through this stressful period. Now, because this is the most stressful part of acclimating a plant back to an inside environment, it is very common for the plant to drop a few leaves. When this happens don’t panic, it’s normal! After approximately 3 weeks of being in a sunny area, your plants are now ready to be moved to their predetermined locations. Remember that the location is determined by the light requirement of the plant.

One other thing to keep in mind is that now that your plants are inside they are going to require less water than when they were outside exposed to the sun and heat. Use a watering stick to estimate how often your plant needs to be watered. Be careful though; next to inadequate light, over watering is the biggest killer of houseplants. Do make sure your pot has holes in the bottom to allow for proper drainage and be sure it has a dish tray to hold the excess water. Without proper drainage, your plant may suffer from root rot.

With your houseplants now fully winterized, you can kick back during the cold winter months, sip on some hot chocolate and enjoy your indoor greenscape, knowing that your plants are the happiest and healthiest they have ever been. If you have any questions regarding winterizing houseplants feel free to come by or give us a call (919) 851-6821 and let one of our greenhouse experts point you in the right direction.

Good Luck!
Brian Jennings
Fairview Greenhouses & Garden Center