Gardening: Get plants ready for a move inside as cold weather approaches

By Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News
If possible, remove the screens and wash your windows inside and out so plants get more light. Dirt and dust on a window can block out sunlight plants need to thrive indoors.

If you move houseplants outdoors to the garden patio for the summer, it will soon be time to move them back inside, and now may be a good time to start the preparations.

Even though your plants may be in a part shade location, they will get a lot less sunlight when they come indoors so now is a good time to get them ready for the big change in scenery. By placing them in a shadier location for a couple of weeks, they will begin to get used to living with less sunlight.

While the plants are in their adjustment period, there are a few other things you can do prepare for their homecoming. First, if possible, remove the screens and wash your windows inside and out. I know this a usually a spring job, but dirt and dust  on a widow t can block out precious sunlight plants need to thrive, especially in winter when the days are short and the angle of the sun is low on the horizon.  

Some plants have a tough time adjusting to the change in the environment when they are moved indoors and it’s not unusual for them to drop some leaves. The knee-jerk reaction for a lot of folks is to ply them with fertilizer and water – lots of water. Sadly, this can do more harm than good. Container plants you may have had to water daily outdoors in the heat of summer need much less moisture when they move indoors. The potting soil should be kept moist but not sodden. The Houseplant Guru, Lisa Eldred Steinkopf , author of the best-selling book, "House Plants: The  Complete Guide to Choosing, Growing and Caring Indoor Plants" (Cool Springs Press),  recommends inserting your finger into the potting soil to the first or second knuckle to check the moisture content of the soil. If it’s dry it needs a good drink. I’m a big fan of moisture meters, available in the houseplant section of independent garden centers and big box stores. Houseplants do not need to be fertilized in winter when they live in lower light conditions.

To avoid bringing bugs indoors, give those plants a good shower prior to the move, being sure to wash the undersides of the leaves. Use Bonide Systemic Houseplant Insect Control according to package directions when placing your plants into their transition location. That will give it time to work and make sure you don’t bring travelers inside.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at