With nighttime and daytime temperatures dropping and hard frosts in the near future, it is time for me to turn my attention to bringing in and acclimating my vacationing tender houseplants, tropicals, and geraniums. Most experts recommend transitioning plants from their present light conditions to lower light conditions over a period of several days when temperatures drop below 50-60 degrees. Like most years, I am already too late to give them the proper transitioning period so I will expect some yellowing and leaf dropping as they adapt to indoor light conditions. I am fortunate to have several south-facing windows for wintering which helps give them as much light as possible.
As mentioned, I am already late in getting this project done and I do tend to put it off as long as possible. I so hate to give up the lovely potted plants and arrangements on my patio as it means a time for downsizing, sharing, and pitching. It is totally impractical for me to bring everything inside. It begins step by step.
The houseplants and tropical will be the first to move indoors as they are the most easily hurt by cold temperature. Before bringing inside, they must be inspected and treated for pests. Aphids, mealybugs, white flies and other pests aren’t normally a problem when potted indoor plants are outside. But they can quickly turn into a major infestation during the winter if they are brought inside on the plants. Some experts recommend bathing or soaking plants before bringing them inside in a tub of water with a mild dishwashing soap. Since most of my plants are too big for a tub, I first spray them with water which also removes outdoor dust from the leaves. Next, I wash the top and undersides of the leaves as much as possible with water and dishwashing soap and then rinse with water. It is important that the soapy water also get into the soil as it will help to kill any pests residing there, too. Once inside, I check them with each watering for any sign of infestation and if spotted, treat religiously with an insecticidal soap until the problem is resolved. I also wash the outside of the pots to remove dirt and to remove any unwanted pests that might be present.
The second step for my houseplants is to determine if they need pruning, separating, or repotting. Some plants may have outgrown their pot and need something larger. Others may be too large for the indoor space and need to be pruned, separated, or even propagated to start a new plant.
The geraniums get a complete make over before coming indoors. As the plants are removed from their outdoor containers, I spray their roots with water to remove the soil and then soak them in a tub of water and dishwashing detergent to remove any potential pests, followed by a rinse. After their bath, one of three things happens to them. 1) Plants are pruned (both foliage and roots) and put into small pots using fresh potting soil. 2) Cuttings are taken for new starts. 3) Whole plants are tagged as to color or variety and placed bare root upside down in paper bags. More information on how to do prepare geraniums for wintering can be found in this article by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach horticulturalists.
Once the plants are inside a new kind of care begins–watching for pests, watering appropriately, cleaning up dropped leaves and petals, and fertilizing as needed. To prevent overwatering, that means letting the soil dry to the touch before watering. Depending upon the conditions of the home, some plants may need nearly as much water in the winter as they do in the summer. My geraniums and tropicals winter in a cool part of the house so I find that watering them every other week is sufficient. I usually don’t fertilize them until late winter/early spring.
The geraniums do need additional tending. The roots of the bare root plants are misted at the same time as watering the potted pants. About every six weeks, I take time to remove spent blossoms and dried leaves, prune any plants that have become leggy, and remove any plants that did not survive their transplant or move indoors. Successful cuttings are also transplanted to larger pots.
Bringing my houseplants, tropicals, and geraniums indoors for fall and winter has been a great way for me to preserve my plants and save money by not repeatedly buying new plants each spring. It does take considerable time in the fall, but in doing so, I have been able to enjoy the same plants and collections for many years and use the money saved to purchase new or interesting plants.