The Plant Doctor: Outside plants need special care indoors

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As autumn becomes more firmly established, gardeners plan to bring indoors their most favored potted plants. While gardeners may wish to “save” their potted plants, realistically only a few will survive the winter, even in the best conditions. So, select wisely and follow the provided suggestions for the best chance to ensure healthy plants.

A quick review from plant care 101 should remind you that conditions indoors are very much different than the environment experienced by your plants during the spring and summer.

For starters, there is considerably less natural light available, and replicating natural light can generate a very healthy utility bill. Most homes are overheated and lack sufficient moisture or humidity. Plants prefer temperatures at or below 70 degrees during the day and about 65 degrees at night.

While the best humidity ranges between 40 percent and 50 percent, most homes usually support a humidity level on par with the driest deserts on earth — somewhere less than 20 percent. And, some windowsills can provide chilly drafts, overheating and little or no light.

Wise gardeners choose plants that can survive in low humidity and low light. Impatiens, for instance, would be a very poor choice. Geraniums, on the other hand, do exceedingly well. Review the optimum conditions for the plants you choose. The hardier they are, the more likely they are to survive.

Acclimate the plants by gradually exposing them to less light each day. For instance, place plants that are generally kept in a sunny location in the shade for a few hours each day. It is desirable to even bring your plants indoors for a bit of time each day until you no longer have to bring them out.

Once the plants have been acclimated begin to cut them back. First remove unhealthy growth, and them prune back at least 25 percent. This activity will stimulate new growth, which will adjust rapidly to indoor conditions.

Insects have deposited their eggs on and about your plants. All plants must be given a good, thorough washing before they arrive in your home. Wash both the tops and bottoms of leaves. You may wish to use a magnifying glass to remove spider mites, whiteflies and insect eggs.

There are several environmentally safe insecticides that can be placed directly into the soil to kill off any insect eggs or larvae that may have selected your potted plant for their winter habitat.

Most insects use the winter as a period of dormancy. Eggs and larvae are well adapted to survive the harsh conditions of winter; however, their cycle is disturbed when the plant is brought indoors. The delightfully comfortable temperatures that you maintain for your family also are ideal for the premature hatching of insect eggs and the emergence of larvae.

Watering should be done only when the soil is dry, but never to the point where the leaves begin to droop. In response to less light, plants usually are dormant or very slow growing. You can disregard the need to fertilize until the days get a bit longer, sometime in March or April.

The biggest challenge plants have for survival is adapting to low humidity. Several suggestions can be useful in this regard. Place the plants close together; as they transpire, they will release water that will maintain higher humidity in the immediate area of the plants.

You also can set the plants in oversized pots filled with pebbles. Fill the tray with water so the bottom of the pot sits above the water line. As the moisture in the tray evaporates, it goes into the air and is available for the plants.

Some gardeners prefer to mist their plants, which is good, but short lived. If you can mist several times during the day, the moisture will be maintained; otherwise, as soon as the moisture evaporates from the leaves, the environment returns to its desert-like conditions.

One last tip is to bring your plants indoors before the evening temperature dips below 50 degrees. Remember, most of the plants we grow during the summer are not native to our climate. In most cases they are subtropical, enjoying moderate temperatures, plenty of rain and high humidity throughout the year.

Questions or concerns about gardening or houseplants? Contact the Plant Doctor at

Posted 7:25 pm, October 10, 2011
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