Unless you live in an especially warm climate, there’s a ritual you have to perform every autumn: bringing container plants indoors. It’s a process that involves some planning and lots of squeezing to make things fit, but it’s usually necessary if you want your potted plants to survive the winter. Keep reading to learn more about bringing container plants indoors and the best time to bring plants inside.
When to Bring in Potted Plants
Some especially hardy plants can spend the winter outdoors in containers. It’s important to remember, though, that containers raise a plant’s roots up out of the protective ground, where their roots are separated from the cold air by just the walls of the pot. USDA hardiness zones are meant for plants growing in the ground-- if you’re planning on leaving container plants outside, they ought to be rated two whole zones colder than your local climate if you want them to survive. There are ways to get around this, but the easiest and most foolproof way is simply to bring the plants inside.
Tips on Bringing Container Plants Indoors
When to bring plants indoors depends somewhat upon their variety. It’s good to remember, though, that many popular blossoming container plants (like begonias and hibiscus) are actually native to the tropics and do not appreciate cold nights. Even if a chill doesn’t kill them, it can dramatically slow down their growth. The best time to bring plants inside is when nighttime temperatures start to dip below 55 to 60 degrees F. (12-15 C.). Before bringing container plants indoors, check for pests that may be living in the soil. Submerge each pot in warm water for 15 minutes to drive any insects or slugs to the surface. If you see a lot of life, spray with an insecticide and repot your plant. If any of your plants are getting too big for their containers, this is a good time to repot those as well. When you bring your plants inside, place the ones that need the most light in south-facing windows or under grow lights. Plants that need less light can go in east or west-facing windows. No matter where they go, the light is probably going to be less intense than it was outside. The shock from this can cause some leaves to yellow and drop. Once your plant gets used to the new light level, it should grow new, healthy leaves. Don’t water your plants as often as you did when they were outdoors-- it will evaporate less quickly. On the other hand, the air is likely to be less humid inside your house. Placing your pot in a dish on a layer of gravel that is kept constantly moist should help with this problem. Just make sure the level of the water in the gravel doesn’t sit higher than the bottom of the container, or you run the risk of root rot.
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The only child of a horticulturist and an English teacher, Liz Baessler was destined to become a gardening editor. She has been with Gardening Know how since 2015, and a Senior Editor since 2020. She holds a BA in English from Brandeis University and an MA in English from the University of Geneva, Switzerland. After years of gardening in containers and community garden plots, she finally has a backyard of her own, which she is systematically filling with vegetables and flowers.
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