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Plants Get Chilly Too! How To Care For Yours Now That It's Sweater Weather

Emma Loewe
mbg Senior Sustainability Editor By Emma Loewe
mbg Senior Sustainability Editor
Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen, the co-author of "The Spirit Almanac," and the author of "Return to Nature" (Spring 2022).
Minimalistic interior with a wooden shelf and houseplants
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For anyone who could use the time check: It is, somehow, late October. The last wisps of summer are officially behind us, and darker, cooler days lie ahead. This seasonal change does a number on the human psyche, and it can be rough on our plant friends too. Here are a few ways to ensure your greenery has a seamless transition into sweater-weather season:

1. Note any lighting changes.

"As the season changes, so does the way the sun enters your space," explains Joyce Mast, the landscaper and "plant mom" at plant delivery service Bloomscape.

This means that you might have to move your plants to a new location in your home, depending on your window conditions. Mast explains that "if your plant was near a window shaded by a tree, the sun rays will be more intense once the leaves fall and you'll need to move your plant back a bit to avoid burning its foliage." On the other hand, you might need to move some plants closer to windows if they're suddenly spending more time in shadow.

The key is to look out for signs of too much sun (browning, crispy, wilted leaves) or too little sun (yellow, drooping leaves) and be realistic about the hours of direct sunlight your home actually gets daily. Some houseplant apps like Steward and Florish have built-in light monitors that can be helpful for this.

Give your plants a week or two to acclimate to their new environment before judging how they like it.


2. Cool it with the fertilizer.

Fertilizing your plants once a month or so can help support new growth. But since fall and winter are dormant seasons, many houseplants aren't going to be doing much growing until the weather warms up. "Growth will slow down or in some cases completely stop," explains Mast. "This is normal, and you can do more harm than good if you feed your plants during this time."

3. Cut back on waterings.

Since plants don't grow as much during cooler months, they also require less water. So during the fall and winter, Mast says to ditch the once-a-week watering schedule and use the touch test instead: "Simply push your finger down into the soil about 1 to 3 inches, depending on pot size, to feel if the soil is damp. If you feel moisture, do not water. If it is dry, water your plants until it flows freely from the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot."

"Always make sure there is never any standing water in the saucer," she adds, as this excess water can drown your roots.

4. Mind the heater.

Tropical houseplant varieties appreciate damp environments, and they're right at home in rooms that are 30 to 50% humidity. (It's why so many plants thrive in bathrooms, as long as they have windows.)

The second we turn the heater on for the year, we dry out our home's air. To give some moisture back to your plants, you can mist their leaves and topsoil or place them near a humidifier. Note that plants with fuzzier leaves, like African violets and succulents, don't like getting wet and shouldn't be misted. In this case, clustering those plants in little groups is a quick way to give their surrounding humidity a slight boost according to houseplant lore.


5. Move plants away from drafty windows.

While you might keep your home at a cozy 70-degrees year-round, drafty windows can cause cold air to leak into some spots. Most houseplants are sensitive to extreme temperature dips, so you'll want to move them away from these chilly vortexes.

6. Bring your outside plants in.

If you have outdoor plants too, you'll want to bring them in once nighttime temperatures drop below 55 degrees. Once you're under the same roof, Mast says to "Examine your plants closely to check for little critters, and remove any fallen leaves, sticks, or debris that may have settled in."

If you do find plant pests or spot telltale signs of an infestation (tiny leaf holes, webs, or sticky substances), Mast says to give the plant a shower to wash them off, then spray an antifungal Neem oil to keep them from coming back.

Then, feed them one last time and get ready to hunker down together for the season: "After their shower, take advantage of the damp soil and let your plant enjoy a bit of fertilizer for the last time this year."

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