Bringing plants indoors for winter

Expect some leaf drop to occur

By: Sandy Feather 2009
Penn State Extension

Q. When I moved my houseplants back into the house after having them on the porch all summer, many of them began to drop leaves. It has slowed down now, and the plants look like they are going to live. Can you tell me how to prevent leaf drop next year?

A. It is not surprising that they began to drop leaves when you moved them indoors because of the lower light levels. That is a common problem when houseplants that have spent the summer outdoors are moved back inside for the winter. Once they adjust, they re-grow new leaves that are better adapted to the lower light level indoors. Reduce the amount of water or the frequency of watering until they put out more leaves; plants with few leaves do not use nearly as much water as those that are fully leafed-out.

Is There Adequate Humidity?

Another factor that could be causing leaf drop is the lack of humidity indoors, especially now that it is winter and the furnace is running. An easy way to increase the humidity around plants is to group them together. All plants lose moisture through the stomata (pores) in their leaves, which creates a small area of elevated humidity. Grouping several plants together creates a more humid microclimate. Another easy way to increase humidity is to place the plant in a naturally humid room, such as a bathroom or laundry room, as long as bright light and some direct sun are available there.


Checking for Pests

Finally, inspect the plant carefully for insect pests such as whiteflies and spider mites. Whiteflies are small, white flying insects that congregate on the undersides of the leaves. They usually fly when the plant is disturbed. Whiteflies feed with piercing-sucking mouthparts, and they cause leaf yellowing and leaf drop. In severe infestations, you may notice a black coating on the lower parts of the plant. This is sooty mold, a fungus that grows on the whiteflies' carbohydrate-rich excrement, known politely as honeydew. Sooty mold does not damage the plant, and can easily be washed off with warm water. Spider mites are very tiny spiders; infested plants may be covered with a fine webbing during severe outbreaks. Both pests can be controlled with horticultural oil or insecticidal soap. Repeat applications will be necessary to get spider mite infestations under control.


Keeping Coleus over winter

Whitefly control

Fungus Gnats


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