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Moving Your Plants Back Inside

As the nights get gradually cooler, lots of plant people want to bring plants inside for the winter. We always bring a few in each year, but not always the same ones.  We have a unique situation, where if plants begin to suffer, we either relegate them to the compost pile, or we take them back to the greenhouse for a ‘spa treatment.’  But each person must decide whether it is worth bringing plants in, or is it better to ‘let them go.’  How do you know if they are worth keeping?  There are lots of factors to help make that decision.  First, is it a relatively rare plant that may take several years to mature?  If so, then it is probably worth keeping.  Does it have sentimental value? Yes?  Keep it!  Are you willing to care for it inside?  Are you prepared to deal with potential insect problems?  Does the plant need to be repotted?  How warm do you keep your house?  Do you heat with a wood stove?  Most plants don’t like excessively dry air, so wood-stove heated houses usually aren’t good candidates for overwintering plants.  Is there someone you can count on to water your plants when you go on vacation?
The answers to all of these questions will help you decide whether it is worth it to overwinter a plant inside.
How do you decide when it’s time to bring your plant in? Weather is your cue. When nights fall below 50 degrees for several nights in a row, it’s a good indicator that it’s time. If there’s a strong fall storm, it might be time for relocating plants. Wind storms can significantly damage tender growth.
When you have finally decided to bring in that huge Hibiscus or Jasmine, make a good visual inspection. You are probably going to become the host for some commonly found plant insects like aphids, spider mites and thrips.  But you may not even see them. Insect populations are low at this time of year, and you may not notice any bugs until the relative warmth of your house triggers the eggs to hatch, or the larvae to pupate. If you are not sure what you are looking at, check the following links for pictures.  For thrips,  For aphids, For spider mites,
If you discover insects, it is far easier to treat them outside than waiting until they are inside. Horticultural Fine Oil is readily available on island, and will help knock down the population of bugs. Follow label directions carefully, and don’t spray in full sun.  It’s probably a good idea to trim your plant before you take it in the house, too. It’s a sure bet that your plants will eventually develop insect problems while in the house. You have to be prepared to deal with them, just as you would with any houseplant.  Organic soaps and sprays are good choices for household use, but again, closely follow the label directions.  One particularly good remedy for knocking down the spider mite population is frequent applications of cold water.  You can put your plant right in the sink or bathtub and spray the foliage with cold water once a week.  Not only does the water wash the mites off, but it makes them  unable to procreate. 
Choose a bright spot in the house for your plants that have been outdoors as the change in light level from outside to inside will be significant.  Many plants (particularly ficus)  will lose a significant amount of leaves when moved. They usually grow back though. In general, most plants that have been outside will require a fairly bright spot in your home.   Finally, you will need to water and feed your plants all winter, but at much lower levels than when they were out on the deck!  Water thoroughly (til the water runs out the bottom) only when dry, and feed with an organic fertilizer at half strength once a month until your plant begins to put in new growth in the spring.


Good article. I often have a hard time "throwing out" my Boston Ferns--so lush and beautiful after a summer under my Cedars....but hate the mess inside. Now, I can relegate them to the compost knowing they are addng back into my soil next spring. I only keep one, and give it an occasional shower during the winter. My other indoor plants on the farm include my 16 year old Bay bush, a huge tropical ferm, two verigaged ficus topiaries, a dug up and still flowering clematis from LAST winter, a potted palm, now 4 feet tall (was a 4 inch tall Home Depot purchase four years ago), a spikey tropical fern of some sort (also see Home Depot) and a few reblooming orchids. I also dig up my rosemary and pot it for my kitchen.They all live on a sun porch with the temp turned to 55. They thrive!

Hilary Newell's picture

I left my rosemary in a pot outside for three years now and our mild winters have allowed it to survive so far.  I'm a little envious of your sun porch - it sounds like the perfect place for plants in the winter!