Tips for Bringing Potted Plants Inside

My Garden Life
September 1, 2021
Table of Contents
As the warm days of summer move aside for the chill of autumn and winter, homeowners start making the move back to the indoors. Summer shorts go into storage and are replaced by cozy sweatpants, we drape patio furniture with weather-repellant tarps and we bring plants from the porch, patio, balcony, or three-season room back into the home.
Once night temperatures begin falling below 55 degrees F (13 degrees C), tropical plants need to move indoors. There are a few steps to take before bringing potted plants inside that will ensure a happy and healthy transition.

Fall is a Great Time to Divide and Repot Your Houseplant

man potting up a dracaena houseplant

Many houseplants thrive when given the opportunity to vacation outdoors for the summer. This can result in vigorous growth. Ferns, peace lilies and other potted tropical often become root-bound when they have had ideal growing conditions. Fall is a great time to check and see if the houseplant has outgrown its pot and if so, repot it before bringing it back indoors.

Repotting is also the perfect opportunity to refresh the soil and make sure no insects have established themselves in the pot during the summer. Shake off as much of the old soil as you can, taking care not to damage the finer roots. Dispose of the old soil, don’t reuse it.

How to Tell if Your Houseplant Has Outgrown Its Pot

hand lifting out a pothos plant from its pot to show mass of potbound roots

Signs that your houseplant is pot-bound:
  • A good sign that a plant is pot-bound is when you see roots poking out of the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot.
  • Another is if it is difficult to ease the plant out of its pot; most plants that are comfortably rooted will easily slide out, root ball and all, if the pot is tipped to the side and a gentle tug is given to the main stem.
  • If the root ball is cracking the pot, or the plant is pushed upward and roots are clearly visible near the top of the pot, there is a clear need to repot or divide the plant to reduce its size. You can repot the divisions to have more plants for yourself or to share.

Cut back houseplants that are not pot-bound but are a bit leggy. Remove spent flowers and spotty or browned leaves as well.

Divide Your Potted Plant When Repotting

Dividing a Sansevieria plant

What should you do with all the plant divisions? Orphan houseplants are easily rehomed as gifts to fellow gardeners who can never have too many and always hate to see a good plant go to waste.
Repot the newly divided plants in containers that are large enough to allow the roots to spread. Use a good quality, lightweight growing mix. It can be coir-based, which provides excellent drainage. Growing mixes are also sterile, so they won’t harbor any pests or fungi.

Debug Plants Before Bringing Them Indoors

mealy bug infestation on a potted dracaena plant

Repotting a plant is the perfect time to check the plant from top to bottom for any insect infestation. Insects such as aphids, whiteflies and scale often latch onto outdoor plants and lurk on the underside of the leaves. When the plants are brought indoors, the pests come with them.
You can debug plants easily with a few simple household ingredients. Kill insects that are large enough to be easily observed with a cotton swab soaked in denatured alcohol. Knock off large colonies of tiny bugs, such as aphids or whitefly, with a fine-mist spray bottle filled with water that has a few drops of dishwashing liquid added.
If a plant is severely infested, or has suffered significant insect damage, it may be beyond saving. Toss it into the garbage, along with the potting soil, and thoroughly clean the pot it was in with a bleach and water solution. Composting could allow the insects to survive the winter and colonize, so it’s best to remove the plant completely.

Remove Weeds from the Plants’ Soil

weeds growing in a potted Adenium plant (desert rose) outdoors

A few months outdoors is plenty of time for weeds to establish themselves in your houseplants. Pluck out the weeds before you bring plants back into the house. If left to grow, they will compete with your houseplant for water and nutrients.

Reduce Light Levels Before Bringing Your Plant Indoors

potted pothos plant in a sunny windowsill

Even in the brightest rooms, ambient light levels inside are lower than those outdoors. When houseplants are moved abruptly indoors, some may drop most of their leaves (very common with Ficus species). The leaves eventually return as the plant acclimates to the new environment, but a bald houseplant is not a pretty sight. While the plant is still outdoors, it helps to move it gradually from a sunny to a shady spot over a couple of weeks before bringing the plant indoors. Transitioning to lower light will help your plant adapt to its new environment more readily.
Houseplants thrive during the growing season when they are moved outdoors, and their presence creates a lovely ambience to outdoor living spaces. With proper preparation during the seasonal changes, houseplants will grow happily for years to come – indoors or out.
Many gardeners choose to invest in lighting that’s specifically designed for plants. For some tips on how to optimize lighting for your indoor plants, read our article on setting up artificial lighting.

row of houseplants under artificial lighting

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