Autumn is our favorite time of year for many reasons: warm-from-the-oven pies, cozy evenings with drinking chocolate—and the yearly show put on by nature when her leafy green is overcome by an explosion of red, orange, and yellow. But not every plant out there is designed to go dormant during the colder months only to reemerge in the spring from frost-dusted lawns. Our outdoor potted plants—geraniums and other evergreen perennials, tender herbs like basil and parsley, and succulent gardens—need to be brought in from the cold if we’d like them to survive.
Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple. Factors like indoor heating, icy drafts, and pesky pests can all play spoilsport. That’s why we spoke with two of the greenest thumbs around, the New York Botanical Garden’s director of glasshouse horticulture and senior curator of orchids, Marc Hachadourian, and director of brand marketing at The Sill, Erin Marino, so they could share their best tips with us.
Play Plant Doctor
Before bringing, let’s say, your purple begonia inside for the season, it’s important to first give it a full health assessment to ensure it has the best odds for survival. This means you should “remove any dead or dying foliage, shower off the leaves to remove any dirt, and look closely for any signs of pests that might be hitchhikers coming in for the winter—before they become problems,” Hachadourian says.
If you do see a few bugs, you can gently rinse them off outside and, once dry, spray the leaves generously with plant-friendly pesticides and fungicides like diluted neem or hort oil to keep them healthy, Marino tells us. She also says not to panic if a few leaves on your plant start to yellow once it’s settled into its new home indoors: Your plant isn’t going to soak up as much sunlight inside, so this is normal and will taper off soon enough.
Know When It’s Time
Fall in the Northern Hemisphere began on September 22, but, at first glance, it seemed as if the weather didn’t totally get the memo. On that day, the high was 71 degrees Fahrenheit in New York City and 73 in Baltimore. However, these daytime temps make it easy to overlook the fact that at night, the temperature can really drop—a critical component when deciding the best time of year to shift your pelargoniums indoors.
“Most common house plants are from warm, tropical, or arid environments and won't survive for extended periods outside when nightly temperatures start to dip below 55 degrees Fahrenheit,” Marino says.
Don’t Over- or Under-Water
While outside, your potted orange abutilon was probably in full sun, meaning it likely needed to be watered frequently to battle the heat. After Penelope (or whatever you’ve named your plant) takes up residence inside, she’s not going to need as much H2O. Plus, “your plant will be heading into the semi-dormancy period of winter,” according to Marino. A once-weekly watering will likely do the trick but keep an eye on the soil: if it feels or looks super parched, give it a bit more water or, conversely, hold back if it's very damp or spills out of the bottom of the pot too quickly.
Consider Your Home’s Humidity
Both experts agree that, while you and your succulents will be just fine once you both get used to the amount of water needed inside, humidity will play a factor. If the air inside is super dry (thanks, radiator) consider investing in a humidifier to increase the moisture in the air to about 50 percent. “It’s great for your skin, too!” Marino adds.
Do Your Research
While most potted plants can make an easy enough transition into your home for the season, it’s important to know each species’ individual needs when it comes to sunlight and the elements. Most common houseplants (like pink and green caladiums) thrive in temperatures between 65 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, Marino says, so this is one factor that likely won’t be an issue, but some thrive while others suffer in direct sunlight. A quick internet search will help you decide which is best for your plant.
It’s super important, however, to not let a plant like your evergreen myrtle, for example, experience extremes in temperatures: if it’s placed too close to a heating element, drafty door, or an icy window for instance. “Leaves can freeze and be damaged easily if right up against glass or windows during cold weather,” Hachadourian says.
Accept the Fate of Some
After a spring and summer spent lovingly pruning, watering, debugging, and caring for your plants, it can be hard to accept that some just aren’t designed to last through the year. But these summer annuals, like petunias, marigolds, and impatiens, do not perform well as house plants, Hachadourian says: “It’s better to let them go and dream of a new garden and design for spring.”
Hunker Down Where You Can
Other plants, like a potted boxwood or Japanese yew, might be able to survive outside during the colder months if properly prepped—a lifesaver if it’s a literal tree that can’t actually fit inside your home. To give it the best possible chance of seeing another spring, Hachadourian advises “wrapping or protecting plants with burlap for the winter to help prevent damage from extreme temperatures or winds that can burn the leaves.
“Try to protect the roots by wrapping containers with these materials, too. This will prevent cracking or damage to the containers from freeze-and-thaw,” he says. “Remember that even though plants are dormant in winter, they will need some moisture at the roots before being wrapped up.”
Avoid Making a Mess
Hachadourian’s expert advice for getting that hibiscus into your house without spilling out half of its soil in the process? “Wrap containers in an old blanket or large plastic bag before juggling plants indoors,” he says. Et voilà!
Have you brought your plants in yet? How are they doing? Tell using the comments below.