Preparing Your Indoor Plants for Fall Season
The end of summer brings a swing of change with fall transitions, like colorful falling foliage. Even with indoor plants, autumn conditions are noticed and houseplants need to be attended to accordingly. With the days getting cooler, plants are signaled to begin entering into their dormant-like stage. This generally makes it a good time for cutting back on regularly scheduled upkeep. It’s important to understand why and how we should go about changing our plant care routine in the fall.
So, why do plants need different care during the fall?
Each season elicits changes in the environment, which affects the indoor environment too. Plants are especially sensitive to shifts in temperature, humidity, and sunlight. In the fall, all of these weather-related factors start to drop. Temperature gets lower, humidity falls, and the amount of daily sunlight decreases.
Since plants (and especially tropical houseplants) rely on these factors to survive and thrive, the decline has a direct impact on their livelihood. Pushing into survival mode, plants suspend output and reserve energy as resources dwindle. Almost like hibernating, most plants experience slowed growth while some plants enter into a dormancy period. Though they still require care, specific needs will just be different than what’s normal in growth seasons.
In what ways should I change my plant care routine?
Overwinter Outdoor Houseplants
The first step to prepping for colder months is to bring in any houseplants that had a summer vacation outside. It will be most beneficial for your plant to acclimate to your indoor environment slowly since houseplants don’t fare well with drastic changes. Typical houseplants cannot withstand temperatures below 55 ℉, so make sure you relocate them as early as September. When bringing plants indoors, thoroughly examine the leaves and top soil for pests. It’s important to treat any pests immediately to prevent spreading to other plants. Also, keep in mind that it is normal for your plant to experience some transplant stress (like leaf drop). Just continue on with your fall care routine as normal, and your plant should be fine in a short time.
The biggest concern during the colder months is overwatering. And too much water can saturate the soil and roots, eventually leading to root rot. As fall creeps in, you’ll start to cut back on watering frequency. If you use the finger test (of waiting until the first inch or two of soil is dry before watering), you may notice already that your plant needs less and less.
Keep in mind that water requirements will continue to decline as the winter season approaches. Typically winter requires about half the amount of water that you’d typically supply your plant with during summer months. But don’t stop watering completely or even at a sharp dropoff, rather cut back incrementally.
During fall and winter, the days become shorter and darker while the sun's angle shifts in the sky. This creates different indoor conditions for your houseplants. You may need to move plants to another location like near a sunnier window (the brightest is usually south-facing). Since each space is completely unique, you’ll have to experiment on your own to see which areas work best for each plant. Also remember that if your plant doesn’t handle direct sunlight, keep it away from direct rays which will move throughout the year.
With cooler temperatures brings a dip in humidity indoors as heating systems warm and dry the air in homes. This decrease in moisture can affect houseplants which are used to naturally tropical, dewy environments.
If you start to notice your plant is drying out (look for signs of brown, crispy leaf tips), then you can supplement with extra moisture. We recommend using a humidifier around your plants. It’s also helpful to group plants together so that they can create and share more moisture in the air around them.
If those methods don’t suffice, you can also lightly mist your plants with water a couple of times a week. But perhaps a better way to achieve humidity is by using a pebble tray filled with water. Simply place a tray filled with small rocks and water under the plant— just don’t allow the water to touch the soil or roots as this will lead to root rot.
Since the indoor environment is controlled, you don’t have to worry so much about temperature being a negative factor. However, houseplants don’t tolerate temperature fluctuations. So for instance, if you go away for the weekend, don’t turn off your heat. Leaving the thermostat a steady 65-75 degrees during cold months will greatly benefit your plants.
In addition, make sure your plants are out of direct path of heaters and not sitting on radiators. Too much warmth can dry out the plant and lead to wilty leaves. On the opposite spectrum, keep plants clear of cold drafty areas like near windows. There’s a fine line of comfort, but notice if you yourself feel any difference in comfort in a spot before placing your plant there.
Early autumn presents the last chance to finish up anything left undone like repotting, propagating, and fertilizing. As plants prepare for the winter, they’ll start to reserve energy and require less nutrients. At the same time, they will be more sensitive to changes as they enter a vulnerable state. So if you need to upsize to a large pot or trim the plant for cuttings, do so as early as possible. Winter is a time of rest and not the time for any disruptions.
Houseplant Fall Checklist:
- During Early Autumn:
- Bring in houseplants that summered in the great outdoors.
- Before or as you bring them in, slowly adjust the plants to less light, controlled temperatures, and (likely) less humidity.
- Take care of anything that needs to be done before winter (like repotting).
- Do a quick assessment of your fall light and decide where plants will be best suited.
- Keep plants away from cold windows, drafty areas, and your source of heat (radiators, vents, standalone heaters, etc.).
- Routine Care:
- Begin cutting back water.
- Let the plant dictate when it needs more (most houseplants require water only once the top 1-2 inches of soil becomes dry— unless you have plants like Calathea which like to stay damp throughout the soil.)
- Preventional Care:
- Monitor plants for pests and remedy immediately.
- Consider adding more humidity to the drier household air (either by using a humidifier, lightly misting, or using a pebble tray).