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Moving Your Tropicals Inside for the Winter the Shock-Free Way

Ted Lare Iowa how to care for indoor plants

Earlier in the year, we wrote about how to give your houseplants a dreamy summer vacation by moving them outside for the summer. If you sent your houseplants out for the season, there’s a good chance they’ve put on lots of lush new growth by now, and they loved their summer break. But as the warmer months wind down, you need to start thinking about bringing them back indoors for the winter. 

Like acclimating them to the outside in the spring, you must carefully acclimate your tropical houseplants back to living indoors for the winter. This will take some time, so get started sooner than later.

Ted Lare Iowa how to care for indoor plants

Why Your Plants Need a Transition Period from Outside In

When you think about it, it makes sense to take time moving your plants out in the spring. Protecting them from sunburn and letting them slowly adapt to the different light levels and exposure to the elements is key.

It might seem silly to do this when moving them back in because you’re taking them from a harsher environment to a more protected environment. But it can still be a stressful transition for plants. There’s a difference in light levels from outdoors, a difference in humidity levels, and a difference in air movement. There’s also possibly a significant change in temperatures from what your plants are used to outside.

Some additional risks may come into play as well, like pests, that you need to consider when bringing plants back inside after a nice summer out on the deck.


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How to Transition Your Tropical Plants Back Inside for Winter

Bringing your houseplants back inside doesn’t take quite as long as the move outside in the spring, but you still need to take your time with it. With a bit of extra care, you can safely bring your tropical plants back inside for the winter, and keep all of your houseplants happy and healthy.

1. Acclimate your plants gradually. Once outside temperatures at night are getting close to 50°F in Des Moines, you’ll want to start the acclimation process. Start bringing your plants inside at night, and then putting them back out in the morning. Gradually reducing the length of time they stay outside. It should take 6-10 days to transition back to living full time indoors. If you have a garage and a garden cart, this process can be a lot easier.

2. Check for pests and quarantine your plants. Plants can pick up any number of pests, like slugs, aphids, mites, scale, or even mealybugs when they’re outside for the summer. This is where a garage comes in handy again. Bringing them into the garage at night gives you a chance to inspect the foliage of every plant and its pot (slugs like to hide underneath), for any bugs and tackle any infestations. If you find pests, make sure you quarantine all the plants you’re bringing inside. Pick a room in your house and move all your indoor plants out of it. Then keep all of the plants you’re bringing inside in that room for an additional two weeks after the transition period is finished. This should be enough time to deal with any pest infestations.

Ted Lare Iowa how to care for indoor plants

3. Inspect, prune, and repot if needed. If your tropicals grew like crazy outside during the summer, they might need some pruning or a new pot if they’ve become root-bound. Trim off any dead, damaged, or diseased bits with a clean pair of shears or snips. If your plant has gotten way too big for the house, you can safely prune back up to ⅓ of the total volume of the foliage. If you want to keep it from getting too big, you can also prune back up to ⅓ of the roots. Only go up one pot size if you’re giving your plants a new pot.

4. Adjust your watering schedule. With less exposure to sunshine and wind, your plants probably won’t dry out as fast indoors, so make sure you change how often you are watering. Most plants are heading into a bit of a dormancy period at this time of year as well, so they’ll be using less water and nutrients. If you’ve been fertilizing your houseplants, indoors and out, it’s best you stop around this time of the year. Use a moisture meter or check if the soil feels moist with your finger before watering. 

Last but not least, be prepared for some leaves to turn yellow and drop off. Even with a smooth transition, moving back inside is still a significant change for your plants, so they may drop a few leaves or look unhappy for a while. Don’t worry, in a few weeks; they’ll be fully adjusted and happy to be cozy inside a warm house for the winter!


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