Q: How late can I leave my houseplants out into the fall? With the beautiful weather we’ve been having, I’d like them to soak up every last bit of summer sun. Besides, they’re a lot easier to care for when they’re out, and I can water everything with a hose.
A: Fall days can be beautiful and warm and sunny, but that can change in an instant with a change of wind direction or the arrival of a frontal system. And remember, several hurricanes are predicted to come up the East Coast this fall. The official cutoff date for moving plants in depends on temperature — most houseplants are tropical, and it’s the end of summer vacation for them when the night temperatures drop to the low 50s.
While your plants are still outside, you have some work to do to make your winter plant care a bit easier.
Repot anything, but only if it’s really necessary. It is far easier to repot outside and keep the mess outdoors. Winter is generally not a growth period, so don’t kill the plant with kindness with too large a pot. If in doubt, wait until spring when growth will resume.
Give plants a final cleaning and shower. At the same time, examine every leaf and stem for bugs. Do any insecticide spraying outdoors, but that final shower can get rid of many pests without the use of chemicals.
Scout indoor locations for plants — you can improve the light coming in by washing the windows. Bring plants in before heat goes on, and they’ll suffer less of a shock. Your house heat dries out the air, so consider using pebble trays or a humidifier — you and the plants will all benefit from the extra moisture. Keep plants away from air vents. Group them together to increase humidity.
What if you ignore the weatherman and leave plants out for one more sunny day, and suddenly, the temperatures drop? If the plants cannot be moved immediately, they can often be saved by covering with sheets or lightweight blankets. Plastic tarps can be used as covers, but place a layer of newspapers underneath the plastic to absorb condensation, which may form on the underside. Remove the covers as early in the next morning as temperatures allow.
North Shore Gardener by Barbara Barger of Beverly is an occassional feature of Friday’s Living section. Reach Barbara by email at email@example.com or write to her c/o the Gloucester Daily Times, 36 Whittemore St., Gloucester, MA 01930. Previous North Shore Gardener columns can be found at www.nsgardener.com.