Bringing Your Outdoor Potted Plants Indoors

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For those of us who have cold and snowy winters, container plants allow us to decorate our patios with plants that we wouldn't otherwise be able to enjoy. We recreate relaxing oasis' by enhancing our patios with Boston ferns, parlor palms, and dracaena in outdoor pots during the summer, and then bring them inside to use as indoor plants as winter sets in.  

Outdoor tropical plants are especially susceptible to the cold. Because the roots are exposed to
cooler air temperatures that circulate around the container, we need to get them indoors in the fall, before the first frost catches us off guard. If you've ever had a plant that was out on the patio when a frosty cold front came through, then you've seen what it can do in just one night. ("melt" is the word that comes to mind)

Here are a few things to keep in mind before you begin relocating your outdoor plants:

A Day at the Spa:  Give the plants a good cleaning by removing any dead or damaged leaves. Cut off any broken branches and remove spent flowers. The dense foliage of many tropical plants is the perfect hiding place for spiders and other pests, so treat your plants to a hardy spray shower to dust the leaves off and evict the first round of bugs. Which brings us to…

Inspect Them For Stowaways: Before bringing your outdoor pots inside, you'll want to thoroughly inspect the plants for insects. Once inside, if bugs are found, it will be much harder to clean them. Tiny bugs, such as aphids, mites, and mealy bugs can blend in on branches and hid behind leaves.

Submerging smaller outdoor pots in a bucket of water for 15 minutes is a great way to flush them out of the soil. You'll want to do this during a stretch of sunny days so that the roots have time to dry out a bit. Be sure to check carefully under the leaves, and if aphids or cocoons are found, use a cotton swab dampenedpatio container plants with rubbing alcohol to remove them.

Reverse Hardening: For container plants that have spent all spring and summer out on a sunny patio, an abrupt move indoors in the fall can be shocking enough to its system to kill it.

Begin by moving them to a shady part of the patio. By doing this before moving them indoors for the winter, you'll find fewer yellow or dropped leaves from the change in light exposure. To get plants ready for their new indoor environment you need to slowly acclimate them over a period of a few weeks. This is referred to as reverse hardening. In the same way you would slowly introduce bright, day- long sunlight to a plant before moving it outdoors fulltime, reverse hardening transitions the plant for its move back indoors.

If a drastic change in weather causes you to bring your plants indoors before they've had enough time to adjust, you can use a garage, porch, or basement to finish the process.  It doesn't have to be heated, just enough to protect them from strong winds. This will also help them adjust to the change in humidity and air circulation.

Once Indoors: You'll want to place your indoor plants in the window that receives the most sunlight. If floor space is limited, think vertically, and use plant stands so that the entire window space is used. To be sure the that your plants will get enough light before you bringing them indoors, clean the windows, inside and out, to increase the amount of light the plants receive.

H2 Oh No:  Humidity levels are much lower indoors, and once we turn our heaters on, it only gets dryer. To help your outdoor garden plants adjust to life backindoor plants fall indoors, mist them with water frequently or, (as seen in the photo) set them on a humidity tray. (a tray filled with water and pebbles). As the water evaporates it raises the humidity around the plants. If you are fortunate enough to have a sunroom, a small, decorative table top water feature throws a lot of moisture
into the air.  

Watch Your Watering: Overwatering is the fastest way to kill an indoor plant. Outdoor garden plants may have required frequent watering on hot and sunny days, but now that they are inside, they don't need as much.

Signs of overwatering include:

  • Yellow leaves that start from the bottom of the plant.
  • Gray mold appears on the plant.
  • Soil seems to be green. This means that the algae are growing on the surface of the soil and is a sure sign over watering.
  • A stem that is soft and mushy has started to rot. Let the surface of the soil get dry to the touch between watering's.

So, if you have outdoor plants that need to move indoors, don't delay. All it takes is one cold snap during the fall to wipe out an entire patio's worth or container plants.