When the weather starts getting colder, it can be hard to part with your lush outdoor space and bring your plants inside—but they can thrive indoors through the winter and make the inside of your home feel as lively as the backyard. Summertime plants need a warm environment to survive the chilly temperatures, so if you're wondering how to safely bring them indoors, we've got you covered.
We spoke to plant experts Elisabeth Ginsburg and Peg Reynolds to learn the dos and don'ts of moving plants indoors to enjoy their vibrant color and foliage all year long. Bonus: It's also budget-friendly, so you won't have to replace your favorite plants come springtime. “Many of our customers have had the same citrus and tropicals for years because they bring them indoors every winter,” says Reynolds. “In most cases, overwintering plants like geraniums will not only save you money but will result in a larger plant come spring."
Meet the Expert
- Elisabeth Ginsburg is the author of the newspaper column and blog The Gardener's Apprentice.
- Peg Reynolds, the owner of Reynolds Garden Shop, is a gardening expert with more than three decades of experience.
Between choosing the right time of year to move them, scouting the perfect location inside, and the process of transporting them, there are a few important steps to ensure that your plants transition well to their new life in the house. Here's how to bring those plants indoors for the winter and keep them thriving through the changing temperatures.
- Working time: A few hours
- Total time: One week
- Skill level: Beginner
When to Move Your Plants Indoors
In most regions of the country, fall is the ideal time to start bringing outdoor plants indoors. Depending on how far north or south you live, you may either move them at the beginning or end of the season, but the exact time will fluctuate based on the weather forecast. The key: Bring them inside before the first frost settles in your area.
When nighttime temperatures dip into the 40- to 50-degree range, it’s time to bring them inside. “Some plants, like pansies, snapdragons, and strawflowers, may survive a mild frost," says Ginsburg, "especially if the plants are well established, healthy, and positioned in a protected area like the wall of a house or garage."
Tools and Supplies You Will Need
Before you begin, gather the following materials:
- Gardening gloves
- Fresh potting soil
- New pots (for in-ground plants)
- Drainage trays
- Pruning shears (optional)
- Magnifying glass
- Clean washcloth
- Insecticidal soap, neem oil, or horticultural oil
- Sticky stake (optional)
Before Getting Started
When you start planning the move, it's important to choose the right plants to bring inside. Reynolds notes not to bring in sick or weak plants: “Use your indoor space wisely, and move the healthiest or most costly plants indoors." Ginsburg stresses prioritizing and reserving your best efforts for the plants that are the most important to you.
“Babying a rare canna may be a higher priority than saving a common geranium," she notes. "On the other hand, if you’ve found a particular geranium that makes your heart sing, overwinter it with care, as the ultimate goal of raising plants is to bring joy to the gardener.” Some species, like tropical plants, will require a few extra steps before coming inside.
Reynolds suggests if you don't have the space or enough sunlight for your favorite plant to thrive inside, consider asking a friend to adopt it for the season. She also recommends shopping in the spring for annuals that adjust well to living indoors, such as impatiens, geraniums, coleus, and begonias.
Step 1: Do a Pest Check
Remember to check for pests, like spider mites and aphids, before bringing your plants indoors. “A magnifying glass is a great tool for identifying bugs. Inspect the tops and bottoms of the leaves, stems, and flowers along with the soil," Ginsburg says. “Look for crawling or flying insects, leaves with holes, scale (brown or tan spots), netting, sticky leaves, and tiny black dots.”
Step 2: Remove Pests Safely
Treat pests safely without damaging your plant before bringing it inside. “Soak the entire container in a tub of water for fifteen minutes to force garden pests out of the root ball,” says Reynolds. “Manually remove any pests you can see, then treat leaves by soaking a clean rag with an insecticidal soap, neem oil, or a horticultural oil.” You may also try a sticky stake—a trap you place at the base of your plant that attracts fruit flies, flying insects, and gnats.
Finally, refresh the soil by scraping an inch or two off the top and adding new soil. “This will remove any insect eggs,” explains Reynolds. “Continue checking for pests once a week while your plants are indoors.”
Step 3: Prepare Tropical Plants (Optional)
Prevent transfer shock by slowly acclimating tropical plants from the moist outdoors to drier indoor air and a lower level of light. Plants like hibiscus or Mandevilla will continue to flower, albeit not so much as during the growing season. “You can try to keep your tropicals going as a houseplant or you can let them go dormant," suggests Reynolds. If you choose to bring them inside, Ginsburg recommends moving plants to a shaded outdoor location for a few days before transporting.
Once your tropical plants are used to the changing temperature, remove spent leaves and pinch the shoots to encourage growth. Using pruning shears, cut the plant above a leaf node to your desired height. The experts also recommend cutting watering in half while tropical plants adjust to living indoors.
Step 4: Choose an Indoor Location
Once you've prepared your plants for their new indoor life, the next step is to find an indoor location that will help them thrive in your home. Since your formerly outdoor plants are accustomed to plenty of sun, give them at least six hours per day of direct sunlight near a south-facing window. “If light is a problem, consider purchasing grow lights,” suggests Reynolds. Keep plants away from heat vents and out of entryways where drafts can become too dry or too cold, and expect them to drop a few leaves while they adjust to the new environment.
Ginsburg notes that a dirty window can also affect the amount of light your plants receive. The expert recommends cleaning your windows before transporting your plants: “Clean and clear will allow in more light than dusty and dirty."
Step 5: Create a Watering Schedule
Be sure not to overwater, which Ginsburg notes is the most common form of “killing your plants with kindness.” How much you water depends on the type of plant, but generally, you should water when the soil surface feels dry. “Most people tend to water when their plant’s leaves turn yellow, but in many cases, this kills the plant,” adds Reynolds, who shares that drooping leaves are an indication a plant is not getting enough water.
Once your plants are inside the house, it's important to add drainage trays underneath their pots. Water can damage your tables, flooring, or other surfaces, and a tray will collect any excess that drains from the bottom of the pot. Bonus: The water will evaporate and help create humidity.
Step 6: Add Humidity
It's also helpful to add humidity to the air. Indoor heat can dry out plants, causing their leaves to curl and turn yellow or brown. Your plants will be happiest in your bathroom thanks to the steam from the shower, but if you don't have enough space, you can create moisture around them with a simple humidifying tray. “Tropical plants, for example, are generally native to areas with relatively high humidity levels,” says Ginsburg. “Placing containers atop of beds of pebbles in water-filled trays will add moisture, and are a better solution than misting—which achieves only temporary effects because of rapid evaporation." A room humidifier that's designed for the size of your space can also help your plants thrive.