Moving Houseplants Back Indoors for the Winter

photo by Deborah J. Benoit
When moving spider plants, peace lilies and other houseplants indoors for the winter, first isolate for a short period so any pests brought in are not transferred to other indoor plants.

by Deborah J. Benoit

Extension Master Gardener

University of Vermont

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. – Did you know that most houseplants sold in stores are actually tropical perennials? That’s right.

The spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum, native to Africa) and peace lily (Spathiphyllum, native to rainforests of Venezuela and Colombia) that make themselves at home in your home originated in tropical climates. So did the Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltat) from Central and South America, Africa and the West Indies. It is no surprise they don’t like the cold of our New England winters and therefore will not survive outdoors after the first frost.

As temperatures (particularly those at night) drop into the 50s, the time has come to bring houseplants back indoors. While it can be as simple as moving your plant from its location outside to a winter home indoors, for the best results for the plant, you and other houseplants in your home, taking a few precautions will be well worth the effort.

First, check your plant for any problems. Give it a gentle shake to dislodge any loose debris. Trim off any dead or dying foliage, and check for any obvious pests.

Get out the garden hose and give it a good shower, not just a misting from above, but a good spray to top and bottom leaf surfaces and the stem to clean off pollen, dust and anything else that’s settled there.

Check for any unwelcome tagalongs as you gently wipe off the leaves and examine all surfaces. Any pests, including eggs laid in the top layer of potting soil, can become an indoor annoyance and a problem for other houseplants already inside.

If your plant has grown considerably over the summer, this is a good time to repot. Use a pot one size larger, and be sure to use quality potting soil. If you don’t need to or don’t want to repot, top dress the soil instead.

Remove any debris such as fallen foliage from the soil surface along with the top layer of soil, being careful not to disturb the roots. Apply a fresh layer of potting soil and give your plant a good drink if it needs watering. It may not if it’s already had a shower.

When you move a plant inside, keep it separate from any always indoors plants for a few weeks in an enclosed porch or spare room to avoid any pests or problems that might not be readily apparent. Short term isolation will allow time for any problems to become known and be dealt with before they can spread to other plants.

Providing similar light conditions will help lessen the shock from a sudden change in environment. If the plant was growing in full sun, find a place near a sunny south-facing window and consider using supplemental grow lights to be sure it continues to get sufficient light. If your plant was growing in full or partial shade, placement in a north-facing window or near a sunny east or west window is a good choice.

When selecting a location, be sure the foliage won’t come in direct contact with window glass. The cold will damage the foliage.

Likewise, avoid placing houseplants close to a heat source such as a radiator or stove. Both the resulting direct heat and its drying effect can damage foliage.

Take your time and enjoy reacquainting yourself with your houseplants as you bring them indoors. They’ve been on vacation. Welcome them home with a little TLC and plenty of light, and they’ll bring a bit of green indoors while the garden outside takes its winter nap.

[Deborah J. Benoit is a UVM Extension Master Gardener from North Adams, Mass., who is part of the Bennington County Chapter.]