Lately, there’s been a change in the air -- you know what I am talking about. It’s been cloudy with a cool, crisp breeze. No doubt many of you have already felt a more substantial change. This signals an ideal time to think about getting houseplants ready for going indoors if it gets really cold.
First, check to see if your plants need to be repotted. Water the plant well so that the soil sticks together. Knock the plant gently out of the pot and inspect the root system. If you have a really tight root ball, you may need to step up to the next size container.
If you need to repot the plants, then select a good lightweight, sterile soil mix available at any garden center or nursery. I prefer light mixes that have good water-holding capacity yet are sure to drain. The number one cause of death of houseplants is over-watering, and many of the bargain potting soils can become heavy and hold too much water. Lighter soils may be a little more expensive, but they provide superior aeration, and water and nutrient holding capacity.
If the container you presently have is as large as you want to handle, this is certainly no issue. Trim both the roots and plant. Lift the plant and prune the roots by one-third, then prune one-third off the top to match the root loss. I kept an Improved Meyer lemon for about 15 years by repeating this process.
If the plants have been outside, inspect them closely to be sure they are not harboring insect pests. You will be quite embarrassed when you invite guests over for dinner and roaches or ants come crawling out to partake of a roast.
Remove any diseased or dead foliage and pinch back growth to make a tidy appearance. If your plants have been outside on the porch or patio, they probably have received a tremendous amount of light compared to your indoor environment. Outside they may be receiving thousands of footcandles of light and indoors reduced to a few hundred.
Bring plants indoors gradually. Move them from the current location outside to a shadier spot for a few days to allow some time to acclimate to lower light conditions.
Despite the fact that we struggle with low light, watching your watering regimen will be just as crucial. We are so used to pouring on the water daily when they were outside that we forget to check the moisture level indoors.
Since the plants aren’t growing as vigorously, if at all, they don’t need nearly as much water. Check the soil to see if it is actually dry before watering. You never want the indoor plant to set in soggy soil.
When you do water, irrigate enough that it drains through the soil and out the hole. Then by all means, let the soil dry before you water again. There is no set calendar for indoor watering, only when the plant needs it.
Since the plant is not actively growing and we cut back on water, it stands to reason we shouldn’t fertilize nearly as often. Use a dilute fertilizer mixed with the water about every fifth watering.
There is nothing that will make you enjoy your home more than healthy tropical plants indoors, so get them ready now for winter.
Norman Winter, executive director of The National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, is the author of “Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South” and “Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden.” Contact him at: winternaba.org.