Already had your first hard frost? First snowfall? Temperatures dropping drastically at night? Let’s make sure your houseplants get the love they need to get through the approaching winter.
A new place to sleep
Did all your plant children make the transition from outside to inside? Now that they are happy (or funerals have been conducted and remains dedicated to the compost pile), it’s time to take stock of their homes. Experts may tell you many different things about the best time to re-pot your houseplants, but the best guideline to follow is to re-pot when they are still growing. Houseplants struggle a bit with re-potting if they have already gone dormant, so fall is pretty much your last chance to get this chore done. Especially if you have any houseplants that experienced robust growth or seem to be crowding their pots, then it’s time to get on this sooner, rather than later. Check your plants for the following signs it’s time for a new home or some fresh soil:
- The pot feels light even after a heavy watering
- You see roots—either above the soil or trying to escape through the drainage holes
- It’s been more than 18 months since you re-potted
If the pot feels light even after you’ve soaked it several times, then the roots are probably crowded, even if they aren’t growing out of their planter.
Plants get their nutrients from the soil, so even if you don’t need to trade up for more space, you should still replace the soil, so your plant can get the most nutrients possible over the upcoming dormant cycle of winter.
How to make a new home for your houseplants
Start by deciding whether or not a new pot is in order. Do you want to keep your plant at its current size, or is it time to spread out a bit?
If you like your planter and the size of your plant, re-potting is pretty easy, but please, be gentle with the roots. For most plants, you can follow these general guidelines:
- Start by giving your plant a thorough watering a few days before you plan to re-pot.
- Spread out some newspaper to catch the mess and gently turn the pot upside down and wiggle it out of the pot.
- Examine the root ball, and carefully untangle the roots. Cut away any roots that don’t look healthy (they may look dry or rotted).
- Now would be a good time to scrub the pot with hot water and soap, too. (Get rid of any harmful bacteria or insect eggs that may be lurking on the pot walls.)
- Leave about one-third of the old potting mix in the pot if it hasn’t come out with the roots, moisten the new potting mix, and pack down a layer of the new.
- Center your plant on top of the new mix and cover it with more new potting mix, packing only lightly. Leave an inch or so of space between the soil and the top of the planter.
- Water well and leave in the shade for a day or two before moving into a better spot.
If you are planning to use a newer, bigger planter for your houseplant’s new home, don’t go too much bigger. Too much of a good thing can actually be harmful to your houseplant’s health. You only need to go about two inches bigger than the pot your plant is coming from. Repeat steps 1 through 4 above, fill your new pot with gravel or pebbles (if recommended for your particular plant), and then fill the pot about halfway with the new potting mix. Then follow steps 6 and 7.
Remember when you were a teenager at the pool in the summertime, and how you would adjust the angle of your body to maximize the sun on your skin for that perfect tan? (What we wish we had known back then, huh?) Well, now is the time to check on the angle of the sun on your plants. What might have been perfect for the summer is probably not quite as optimum now. Pay attention to what the southern slant of the sun has done to the light in your space. Do you need to move any plants out of the way of intense, direct sunlight that wasn’t so direct a month ago? Do you need to shift some plants into a spot that might have become too shady? Are evergreens or buildings blocking your sunshine? It’s time to shift your plants now and to keep an eye on the changes over the next few months.
Clearing the air
Your plants work hard to clean the air you breathe, so don’t make them work overtime while your heating system is keeping you warm. You have probably bumped up your forced air heat or turned up the radiators at least once so far this fall, so you may already have an idea of some relocation prospects.
While radiators are great for keeping a bit of humidity in your space, they can wreak havoc on your houseplants if they are too close to them. So, move them back or hang them up. You know how a campfire can feel so nice on a chilly night, but the side of your body not facing the fire gets cold? Your plant is going to feel the same way, especially if you let your space get colder during the day while you are out or at night when you are sleeping (or partying).
The next time the forced air kicks on, inspect your plants. If their leaves are moving in the breeze, you need to move them away. Consider how drying forced air heat is to your skin and know that it the effect is only increased for your plants. And speaking of dry air, keep the cold drafts off your plants, too. Check out the trajectory of the cold air coming in when doors are open and shore up any drafty windows. Consider running humidifiers in the house, too. They’ll keep both you and your houseplant children healthier. No humidifier? Keep a mister handy and spritz your babies when they look a bit crispy or droopy.
A loving relationship throughout the cold dark months
In the Indian tradition of Ayurveda, practitioners advise we stay warm, move slowly, and sleep close to a loved one in the wintertime. Whether your loved one is human, animal, or an air-cleaning, heart-lightening, green friend standing near your bed, helping your houseplants slip into much-needed rest after a busy growing season is one of the best things you can to do avoid the winter blahs that will surely raise their heads in the coming months—for you or anyone else in your household. That said, at Plants and Petals, we hope you and your houseplants slide into the winter season with ease and love.