Here are some steps to take to welcome your green friends back to their winter quarters:
Give your plants a bath. Rinse all the leaves – top and bottom - with a hearty shower from your garden hose. This bath washes away dust and many insect pests that may be enjoying residence on the plant. If the plant is large or in a heavy pot, try to not soak the root ball too much; big pots filled with wet soil can be quite heavy and awkward to handle. You may want to gently lean the plant over or tip it on its side to make this easier.
Treat for Bugs! Do this outside the very day you bring the plant indoors, even if you can’t see any creatures. There are always ‘hitchhikers’. Many insect pests are very small, even microscopic in size. They may be dormant or resting in egg form. Once inside your warm, comfy home, they resume life with gusto, multiplying generation after generation until by mid-winter or so there can be a huge population that is very difficult to eradicate.
Choose a product appropriate for the plant and your situation. Be sure to read and follow the label recommendations. Repeat the treatment through at least three cycles and continue to monitor your plants through the winter. Remember that outbreaks are much more easily prevented than cured, so consider additional precautionary treatments periodically through the winter. Any sign of stickiness on leaves, stems, pot or surface beneath the plant indicates an infestation and should be treated immediately.
There is a wide range of great products available. The knowledgeable staff at Linder’s can help you make a good choice.
Reduce watering frequency. When plants come indoors they will be entering a ‘resting’ phase in their annual cycle. Growth will slow considerably, and the plant may shed some leaves as it adjusts to the changed environment. Plants will not be using as much water as when actively growing, so water only when needed. Get your finger into the soil an inch or more. For most plants, the soil surface should be dry or very nearly so, and the soil at your finger tip should be just barely moist. Adjust the frequency according to the type of plant. For instance, cacti and succulents should be allowed to get very dry while ferns can be watered when the soil surface is still just barely moist. When you do water, do so thoroughly, until the root ball is wet, and some water runs out the drain in the bottom of the pot. If you are not sure your plant is thirsty enough, wait a day or two. Most of us ‘kill our plants with kindness’ by watering too often.
Reduce feeding. Resting plants will do better with minimal fertilizer during the winter months. Let an extra week or two go by in your feeding schedule and reduce the concentration of fertilizer by a third or even half. Consider alternating fertilizers with different nutrient ratios according to specific plant needs.
Increase light. Winter days in Minnesota are short and tend to be gray rather than sunny. Even plants normally considered ’low light’ will benefit from your brightest space. Consider using artificial lights to supplement the available light from your window. Plants that enjoyed full sun over the summer, especially herbs, are likely to be short-lived without the extra light. You can use one of the many attractive fixtures available for this purpose or something as simple as a desk lamp equipped with a CFL bulb. Aim for 12 hours of bright light each day. Do avoid drafty, cool window sills though; the combination of cold and damp soil is a real invitation for disease.
Even with supplemental light, your plants may get long and leggy, reaching for still more light. Feel free to pinch back the tips now and then to keep your plants well shaped. Consider rooting some cuttings too.
Increase Humidity. Furnace-heated air is notably dry. Try setting up a commercially available ‘humidity tray’ or make your own. Grouping your plants together in one smaller area or room to create a mini-environment is a good idea. Misting can help too.
Do use care to not group plants very tightly though; a lack of air circulation can invite disease.
House plants contribute so much to our winters, enhancing air quality and cheering our days. Following these few simple steps will keep your plants happy and healthy all season long!