Fall is approaching and the kids are heading back to school, and we’re busy fantasizing about pumpkin-spiced-everything, sweater weather, and the start of the holidays…
But if you’re a gardener who lives in a colder climate like us, cooler weather does mean one thing, a less vibrant garden, not as much playtime in the yard—and along with us the plants have to come inside.
Try not to fret, your enjoyment of the garden doesn’t have to freeze over anytime soon! Here’s how to keep your outdoor plants flourishing when it comes time to bring them indoors:
Be mindful of the heat
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire… sounds romantic, but not so much for outdoor plants which can quickly dry out in warm indoor temperatures. Outdoor potted plants—such as chrysanthemums, freesias, hydrangeas, hyacinths, and narcissus—may be subject to rapid bud withering if kept in areas with continual hot, dry air. Avoid placing these plants in extremely sunny windows or near microwaves, ovens, and heating vents. Give all of your outdoor plants appropriate light, sufficient water and ample air circulation to experience minimal die-back, and even enjoy their blooms indoors for several weeks!
Replicate Mother Nature
Outdoors, soil is constantly improved with leaf mold, earthworm castings, decaying plants, and animal droppings. Indoors, once a plant has used up the nutrients in its pot, there’s nowhere for it to get more, unless their loyal and loving gardener adds fertilizer.
There are many types of fertilizer great for indoor use. The “20-20-20” designation on fertilizer packaging shows you how much nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are inside. For example, a 5-10-5 mixture will be higher in phosphorus than in nitrogen or potassium.
Nitrogen creates healthy green foliage. Phosphorus supports a strong root system and blooms. Potassium encourages more blooms, stronger stems, disease resistance, and overall plant vigor. But, always use fertilizer sparingly! If you apply too much, repot your plant immediately in fresh soil or rinse and drain existing soil to wash out the excessive fertilizer.
Look out for signs of damage to address specific problems
Low nutrients? Yellow leaves and poor growth will be an immediate warning sign.
Too much fertilizer? You’ll see “tip burn” or browning of leaves.
Too much nitrogen in the soil? Your plant will be growing fast, but spindly. You won’t see any blooms, but you might see lots of bugs since it makes them more prone to insect invasion.
Nitrogen or potassium shortage? Leaves will turn yellow with brown tips and edges.
Not enough phosphorus? Your plant will be growing slow, and develop darker green leaves than you are used to seeing, while leaf stems may appear purple.
Bad lighting? If you don’t have enough light, your plant might start dropping its leaves suddenly, and lower leaves will turn a lighter green shade than the rest. And flowering plants simply won’t bloom. But add too much light and your plant will wilt, leaves can become burned, and flowers and leaves will fall.
Water overload? You’ll know this by seeing the first symptoms of root rot. You may see green moss forming on the surface of the soil, lower leaf wilting, faded coloring, and the lower portion of the plant stem just above the soil line darken. If it’s not too late, repot your plant in well-draining soil, trim off brown roots and remove standing water.
Need more h2o? Your plant will be growing super slow as it conserves its minimal water supply. Drooping can occur, leaves might fade in color, and any buds that form may fall off. Know to water your plant by sticking your finger half an inch into its soil to check for dampness.
Keep ‘em blooming
Holiday and gift plants are usually reared under controlled conditions to produce blooming during specific seasons, which cannot be easily replicated in the home. To get them to bloom again at the same time year-after-year light must be strictly regulated. Remember: Extended periods of light encourage foliage rather than flowers.
For poinsettias and Christmas cacti to reflower keep them in total uninterrupted darkness during evening and night hours. After poinsettias bloom the first time, cut back stems to 8 inches and repot the plants in fresh houseplant soil. Beginning in October, cover both poinsettias and Christmas cacti with a large carton from sundown to sunup and remove it every morning. Keep up this habit until you see their flowers reappear!
While many gift plants, like azaleas, cineraria and cyclamen generally do not bloom again indoors, they can be enjoyed as foliage plants when kept inside. To prolong their blooms do not let them dry out. Place them away from drafts and hot direct sun to keep them moist and cool.
Keep in mind all foliage and flowering plants need light to keep them in good condition, with flowering plants usually having the highest light requirements. Typically, flowering plants prefer cooler temperatures with more moisture (preferably 65 degrees during the day, and 50 to 55 degrees at night). Placing them in cooler parts of the house, near cooler windows or in basements, is ideal. Move them out on display only on occasions, as major temperature and light fluctuations can damage plants.
Depending upon the plant, when the season returns you can try placing them outdoors in good growing conditions and soil, and after the first or second spring they might just reward you with a bouquet of flowers!