Overwintering Plants

When fall approaches and temperatures begin to dip, many home gardeners wonder when it’s time to bring houseplants indoors.

As a general rule of thumb, the Garden’s Kemper Center for Home Gardening recommends tropical houseplants be moved inside once temperatures drop below 50°F. 

If left outside, most indoor plants will suffer from cold damage. Growing tips and young leaves are especially vulnerable. Houseplants can always be returned outside once the cold has passed to soak up some last rays of sun for the season.

Of course, you want to make the transition as smooth as possible for your plants, and avoid bringing any outside pests into your home. The Kemper Center for Home Gardening has the following tips for moving plants indoors for the winter:

  • Clean up. Remove any dead or diseased leaves of branches for your plant and soil, and give the plant a good washing. This should prevent insects from coming inside with plants. For large plants, use a garden hose. Use a damp sponge for smaller plants. If you want to be even more thorough, sink your plant in a bucket of water for 20 minutes to force any ants or other insects out. Allow it to dry completely before bringing it indoors.
  • Still have ants? Don’t panic! Even if you do a good cleanup, it’s still possible ants that may have taken up residence in a potted plant made it inside. If this happens, simply place ant bait around your plant to eliminate these pests.
  • Repot only if necessary. Fall is not the ideal time to repot plants. If you need to replace a broken or cracked pot, lift the plant out and place it in a pot of the same size. If you think it needs a larger pot, choose one that is only one inch larger in diameter.
  • Don’t fertilize. By this time of year, you should stop all fertilizing until the days start to lengthen in spring. If a plant starts to show signs of a nutrient deficiency, however, you can feed it with a diluted all-purpose plant fertilizer.
  • Check light and temperature requirements. These vary from plant to plant, so be sure to check your specific plant’s needs before deciding where to place it. Generally, temperatures between 65 and 70 are best. East, west, or south-facing windows are ideal for most houseplants, but low-light plants like Chinese evergreens and philodendrons do better in north facing windows.
  • Expect leaf drop. This is a plant’s natural response to the changing conditions and should not be a cause for concern right away. If your plant doesn’t grow after a month, try other adjustments to its care.
  • Know if your plant needs special treatments. Some plants require more specific care than others. For information on specific popular plants, like orchids and succulents, refer to the Center for Home Gardening’s fact sheets.

You can find more information on caring for houseplants on this page from the Center for Home Gardening.

Catherine Martin
Public Information Officer

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