Houseplants each have their own personality, so it is fun to spend a little time with them noticing what makes them happy, Sometimes small changes can have dramatic effects, for example slightly tweaking the position relative to a light source or repotting into fresh soil.
We can safely say fall is here, and plants that are going to spend the winter indoors should now be tucked inside. But, this time of the year often generates many questions about indoor plant care. In today's blog we are going to cover the essentials of fall indoor plant care, with the goal of helping alleviate as much stress as possible for you and your plants.
Priority # 1 - Find the correct light exposure for your various plants
Not all plants are the same when it comes to winter growing, and the amount of light required to sustain a vibrant indoor plant ranges considerably across species. With that said, a good starting place is always to provide as much light as possible and go from there. Figuring out indoor lighting comes down to two key realities: (1) there is drastically less light indoors vs. outdoors, and (2) that light drops off exponentially the further you move away from a light source. So, the first priority for prime windows would be anything identified as requiring direct sunlight, but even "shadier" plants may require a spot very close to a big window in order to thrive. Don't despair if the best window(s) gets full right away, there are plants that are content in a bright room but away from direct light, usually identified on care tags as requiring bright indirect light; examples would include pothos, haworthia, some aloes, many philodendrons, peperomias, ZZ plants, some ferns and some gingers.
Another consideration is that there are far fewer hours of daylight in winter, and some plants require long days to look their best. This is common for warmer climate herbs, container fruits and tropical flowering plants (but anything labelled as full sun falls into this category). Honestly, to really enjoy these types of plants overwinter, I would always grow them under simple full spectrum lights left on 16 hours/off 8 hours per day.
Occasionally you'll find an indoor plant getting too much light, with symptoms such as leaves turning purple, variegated foliage turning solid colours, or even scorching if the light source is really intense. If you suspect a plant is getting too much light, move the pot back just 6" - 12" and test; you'd be surprised what a difference this can make (likewise, plants looking for more light will benefit from a similar micro tuning approach).
Priority # 2 - Reduce the impact of dry indoor air
Aside from light, the biggest change your now indoor plants will experience is that the air is much dryer. And this gets amplified as heating systems come on through late fall and winter. Dry air can quickly cause dry leaf edges, challenges with knowing when to water, leaf drop, and spider mites. This sounds miserable, but luckily there are solutions. First, I would encourage indoor gardeners to shower plants periodically, removing dust and possible spider mites, plus rehydrating dry foliage. Second, grouping plants, using pebble trays (saucers with pebbles that pots sit on) and adding deflectors to heat vents (directing dry air away from plants) are all very helpful tools in combatting indoor low humidity issues. For the most humidity-loving specimens, a small humidifier is transformative.
Priority # 3 - Don't forget to water... but not too much!
There is a tendency for gardeners to want to do certain chores on a schedule. This works really well for tasks like remembering to shower indoor plants, but not so much for watering. Each plant in your collection likely has its own pot style, maybe soil type, and definitely innate watering requirements. So, the best way to succeed with watering is to start with what is generally recommended for a category of plants and tailor things from there. For example, succulents generally like to be watered deeply then allowed to dry out completely before being watered again and herbs like to be watered deeply, then not again until the top inch or two of soil has dried out. But these are guidelines, and you will start to notice other clues like the point at which leaves start to wilt a little or the difference in pot weight when just watered and when ready for a re-soak. Try your best to follow your plants' lead for watering... and if you are the type of gardener who likes calendar reminders, set one for every two weeks to check on your plants... but only water if necessary.
Originally posted October 14, 2021