How to Bring Houseplants Back Inside for Winter

It’s that time again! Fall has arrived and our outdoor houseplants are ready to come in.

If you are like me, you’ve enjoyed watching your plants thrive outside, putting on growth that you wouldn’t see indoors. It’s amazing what happens when they are outside.

Now it’s time to watch them live on inside. Let’s discuss how to successfully bring plants back inside for the winter!

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How do you know when to bring your plants back inside?

Most of our houseplants prefer temperatures above 50 degrees Fahrenheit or 10 degrees Celsius.

So, if your temperatures at night are getting near these temps, it’s time to transition your plants inside.

In SE Michigan, it’s definitely time to bring plants in!

There are LOTS of different ways to bring plants in. I will share with you how I am transitioning my plants for the cold season.

Cactus outside

Some of my plants have gone in and out for several years now. It’s a lot of work if you take out more than a few, but the payoff can be pretty amazing.

There are 2 big concerns when bringing plants indoors:

  1. Bringing in pests
  2. And how the drastic change in environment will affect them

We’ll talk about both of those and how I handle each.

#1 Acclimate plants to deep shade – if possible

If you have the space and time, acclimating the plants to lower light conditions will help when bringing them in.

From the beginning of summer, you may remember that taking plants out requires care because the environment changes drastically, and the plants may experience sunburn and shock.

Similarly, plants coming in for winter also experience shock due to the low light levels and stagnant, dry air.

We can help soften this process by transitioning them slowly instead of abruptly taking them into our dark houses.

The way I’m doing that is by moving them further and further into my garage, where it becomes darker and darker.

You could also bring them in your house for some time and then take them back out, which is the opposite of what people often do to transition plants outside for Summer.

If you can’t do this, that’s okay. This step is not critical for your plants to survive.

#2 Spray off foliage and clean the outside of the pot thoroughly

I spray off the foliage when I water each plant outdoors to remove as many bugs and eggs as possible.

I also clean and inspect the outside of the pot because pests (like mealybugs) can reside here.

Mealybugs can hide under the rims of pots, on the bottoms in drainage holes, saucers, etc. So it’s always a good idea to take a look and clean the surfaces of the pot.

I will do this several times before bringing them in while outside watering the plants.

#3 Repot or replace some of the potting mix

Lots of pests can live in the potting mix of our plants.

Thrips, one of the most frustrating pests, are soil-born.

Fungus gnats also reproduce in soil. Thankfully, they do not typically damage our plants in a home environment, but they often annoy us.

Mealybugs, scale, and others can hide in the soil as well.

Depending on how thorough you want to be, you can:

#1 Bring a plant in without replacing soil and solely monitor for pests.

#2 Replace the top 2-3 inches of potting mix where many pests hide and/or reproduce

#3 Take the plant out of its pot and shower off all the dirt on its roots. Then, pot it up in a brand-new potting mix with a clean pot.

What am I doing? Mostly #1 and #2.

Here’s why:

I don’t want to majorly disturb my plants by repotting them before bringing them inside since coming inside is a huge change of environment already.

I also have way too many plants outside and not enough time and resources to repot all of them, so even if I wanted to, I probably wouldn’t.

I plan to take less outside in the future. They do so well outside it’s hard to resist, though.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to watch a houseplant flourish outdoors, I highly recommend it!

You could even buy a houseplant and grow it outdoors for fun to avoid taking out a plant you’ve been cultivating carefully indoors.


#4 Bring the plant in and manage pests

Since I am not doing any particular pest treatment for most of my plants outdoors, I will use beneficial insects indoors to help control pest populations.

I use beneficial bugs year-round to stay on top of pest issues and maintain a more natural home where I worry less about harsh chemicals around my kids and pets.

What beneficial bugs will I use?

I vary between several options:

  • Predatory Mites (can be used to control spider mites, broad mites, flat mites, thrips, and possibly other pests I’m unaware of.) My preferred mites are:
    • Hypoaspis miles – Stratiolaelaps scimitus (will eat thrips larvae, fungus gnat larvae, root mealybugs, and more)
    • Neoseiulus californicus (great control for mites, including broad, flat, and two-spotted spider mites)
    • Amblyseius cucumeris (controls thrips and spider mites)
  • Orius insidiosis – Minute Pirate Bugs
    • Minute pirate bugs eat various pests, including multiple stages of thrips. They are also very tiny and nearly invisible to anyone who doesn’t know what they are looking for
  • Green Lacewing Larvae (a general predator that eats most houseplant pests)
  • Cryptolaemus montrouzieri (a specialized predator for mealybugs)
  • Beneficial Nematodes (a specialized predator that can control soil-born pests)

It depends on what is happening with my houseplants and what I feel is needed. I typically buy predatory mites and a generalized predator. Others may come and go in the order depending on my plants’ needs and what pests I am seeing.

I encourage you to do your own research regarding beneficial insects, their care, and what will be best for you in your home.

#5 Observe your plant: Adjust care and treat issues as needed

After bringing plants in, I watch them for signs of issues: decline, pests, root disease, fungal pathogens, and more.

If I see a problem, I will adjust as needed.

Otherwise, I am careful to check plants before watering. Their watering needs will be very different indoors than out.

Most of the work at this point is watching the plant as it learns how to grow indoors and figuring out how to help the plant do that successfully.

If it is a plant that routinely goes back outdoors, the goal is to get through the cold months as healthy as possible.

Some plants thrive outside and don’t do that well inside unless they have powerful grow lights (cacti and fruit trees, for example). At least, that is my experience growing them in Michigan.

My goal with these is to keep them alive so I can watch them thrive once the weather is nice enough to do so.

If it is a plant that doesn’t always go out, I think of it differently and consider it more like a new plant that I am adding to my houseplant collection and am learning about its care.

Because in a way, that is sort of what it is like… it’s a plant that is fresh from nature’s greenhouse, and I have to learn how to take care of it in my home.

Optional: Things I recommend but won’t be doing myself because of limited space, time, or resources.

Option #1 Using Azamax as a pest management tool

After bringing plants in, another option is to use Azamax (an organic pesticide) as a soil drench.

I chose to use Azamax because it controls a wide spectrum of pests as a systemic and is derived naturally from neem oil, but does not include the strong smell of neem.

It is more effective, mixes more easily with water, and is highly concentrated.

Azamax’s website states that it “Controls spider mites, broad mites, russet mites, aphids, root aphids, whiteflies, thrips, fungus gnat larvae, fungus gnat adults, powdery mildew” General Hydroponics Azamax page linked here.

Other popular systemics, like Bonide systemic, do not control mites. This is a huge detractor for me as spider mites are very common in my dry, furnace-heated Michigan home throughout fall and winter.

The downside to Azamax is that it does require regular application, whereas Bonide needs to be reapplied very infrequently. The directions for Azamax are easy to read and follow, which is a plus.

Here’s a link to Azamax on Amazon via the Affiliate program – which means I could make a few cents if you choose to purchase using this link. Any proceeds will support this blog.

General Hydroponics AzaMax, 4 fl. oz. Orange

Option #2 Quarantine plants that were outside for summer

If you have the space to quarantine plants that were outdoors without compromising the light they will receive, it is a very good idea. Then any pest issues can be more easily contained.

If you are like me and are out of plant space, so there is nowhere to do such a thing, I feel you. Good luck to us!

Acclimating Houseplants Outside for Summer (How to Do It and Reasons For & Against It)

A Houseplant Collector’s Dilemma: Own Every Plant or Have a Beautiful Home?


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