Saturday, September 18, 2010

Houseplant Moving Day by Elaine Lockey

“Brrrrr” says my peace lily, “How do I look in this wool hat?” says my aloe.  Okay okay, I get the hint.  With temperatures dipping down into the 40’s at night our lovely tropical houseplants are ready to move to a warmer climate, that being your house.  Leaving them out too long in the cold will damage them and eventually kill them.
There is a bit of prep that you’ll want to do to get ready for your returning houseguests.  The first thing you’ll want to plan out is space. Chances are you’ve filled in the all the spots that your plants normally take with furniture or other décor.  Time to reshuffle the room and provide inviting spots that will give your plants plenty of sunlight.  Maximize space by using plant stands with multiple levels.  Get creative, plants can look good in any room of your house as long as it offers the amount of light levels that the plant needs. Plants like Sansevieria and pothos can handle lower light levels and can take up spots further into the room allowing plants like aloes and bromeliads the strongest light.

Trim off any damaged or leggy growth. Wash off the outside of the pot and clean off the plant. Look over each plant for any noticeable insects.  You want to avoid bringing anything into your house that can and will spread to your other plants (or even you!).  Examine each leaf and the crevices between each twig.  Aphids are one of the most common houseplant inhabitant as are fungus gnats and spider mites.  Isolate your returning plants from other plants in your house by putting them in a separate room for at least three weeks to be sure they aren’t carrying anything.  For minor infestations washing the leaves off can help, for larger infestations a dose of systemic insecticide at the specified intervals will kill most leaf-eating insects as the plant absorbs it via its roots.

 Ideally you would move plants gradually to their new environment by giving them a little more time in their new spot each day before you bring them in for good.  Great idea but I know how unfeasible that can be - I have never succeeded in doing it.  I generally use the “oh geez its going to freeze tonight I’d better bring them all in!” approach.  And so they all come in at once in a big rush late in the evening and sit in the middle of my living room floor for the next week until I can figure out what to do with them.  I don’t even want to think about what might be crawling around on them! Do try though to keep their environment similar at first, so a plant that you had in a shady corner of your porch should not be immediately put in the direct sunlight of your south facing kitchen window as the leaves may drop or burn.

Cut back on watering as plants that are inside generally don’t need as much as when they were in the outdoor elements and their growth rate has slowed for the season.  Instead of watering say every Sunday, use the finger in the dirt approach and only water based on that individual plant’s needs.  Water each plant thoroughly so that water drains out the bottom of the pot but do not let plants sit in water so excess water should be discarded.   Reducing or stopping fertilizing also needs to be your approach depending on the specific plant.  Over-fertilizing during the winter can result in a buildup of salts in the soil as the plant is not using it up.
Happy Moving Day!

For help in identifying and controlling insects, check out this fact sheet for common houseplant pests.