MASTER GARDENER — Houseplant relocation is important with lower light

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Everyone in SETX is enjoying the best weather we’ve experienced in many months -a wonderful gift indeed.

Our weather has juxtaposed from exceptional daytime heat to phenomenally temperate days and downright ‘chilly’ nights. We can finally turn off the air conditioning, open our windows and altogether appreciate outdoor activities for the next several months.

We’ve received a ‘taste’ of fall weather over the past week with plenty more in store for us. Gardeners, if you haven’t started doing so, time to begin “the great migration” of moving your favorite plants and houseplants to protected locations or returning them indoors.

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Naturally, there are a few steps involved in the relocation process to ensure plant trauma is minimized.

If you are like me and haven’t started yet, now is the time to consider placement for the numerous temperature sensitive ornamental plants acquired, scattered outside on porches, patios, decks and distributed about the yard for the warmer months.

The time to prepare for colder temperatures is now, before we receive our initial frigid blast of winter. Thoughtful preparation saves time and will minimize your frustration.

Another option is to procrastinate, waiting until the last possible moment before moving plants but speaking from experience, working outdoors during frigid weather is not an enjoyable experience, nor is trying to determine where to place a litany of plants at the last moment.

Before relocating plants indoors, transition them from outdoors (intense sunlight) to shaded (dapple sunlight) location which will minimize plant trauma from diminished sunlight. This is a signal for the plant to prepare for dormancy.

Moving plants into different areas outdoors which have less sunlight also provides gardeners with more time to find the best location indoors, which provides the most sunlight for plants.

The most important step is to thoroughly inspect each plant for pests. This will take a bit of time but it’s important to search every leaf (top and underside), stem, trunk and soil surface for insects, frogs, lizards, birds or anything else you don’t want flying or crawling around inside your home or wherever you choose to over-winter plants.

While the plants are outdoors, use a garden hose to wash the plants with a gentle blast of water to remove most pests and insects. The remaining pests, such as aphids or mites can be removed by spraying infected plants with an insecticidal soap.

Once pests are removed, thoroughly inspect each plant again, removing diseased or dead limbs and leaves. Though I don’t recommend pruning (it encourages new growth), it is sometimes necessary if the plant has grown substantially.

Repotting the plant may also be necessary, if so, prune the roots while the plant is out of its old pot. The pot should be upsized no more than 2-inches larger than the previous pot if the roots were tightly bound.

It’s a good idea to acclimatize plants before subjecting them to life indoors. Begin the process when night temperatures are around 55 degrees F or slightly cooler. Bring them indoors and place them back outside during the day.

Gradually increase the amount of time over the next couple of weeks until all plants have migrated indoors. If you have a large plant collection (this gardener literally has hundreds of plants), this simply isn’t possible, though I do begin placing them inside a greenhouse.

Choose an area inside your home that has a temperature range between 60-75 degrees F during the day. Plants dislike temperature fluctuations and drafty conditions, such as being placed close to entryways since the temperature fluctuates dramatically.

Humidity inside our homes is typically around 40 percent or lower. Plants need higher humidity levels, so misting plants several times a day will provide the needed humidity, or use humidity trays, which are trays filled with pebbles and water.

As the water evaporates, the humidity level increases around the plants. Check the water level every few days, refill as necessary.

Houseplants don’t require as much water indoors. If the soil surface is moist, the plant doesn’t need water. Test the soil with your finger about an inch below the surface, if it’s dry, add water.

Do Not overwater houseplants, as they are more susceptible to root rot during colder months. It’s also important to note plants in dormancy should not be fertilized. Wait until spring to fertilize plants that encourages growth.

Place plants near a sunny window, as they need as much natural light as possible. They need sunlight to sustain their daily carbohydrate needs (photosynthesis). If natural light is limited, grow lights can be used and are low cost and highly effective.

Plants placed in a garage require sunlight or grow lights and a heat source. Garages tend to become very cold when temperatures drop. Back porches can make wonderful temporary greenhouses.

Simply frame them with 1” x 1” wood strips and enclose them with plastic, then add a small space heater to provide warmth. So long for now fellow gardeners. Let’s go out and grow ourselves a greener, more sustainable world, one plant at a time!

Send comments and questions to Texas Certified Master Gardener John Green at jongreene57gmail.com.