Question: This fall I brought some of my houseplants back inside and many of the leaves started to fall off, are they going to die?
Answer: Many of us send our light loving houseplants on vacation to the porch, deck or yard for the summer. The environment outside gives them the light, temperature, and humidity they love for lush growth. In spring we are always careful not to move them out until the temps are close to what they are inside and all chance of frost is over, so they won't be shocked or killed by the change. For example we want the night temperatures to be above 60o F or the plants will be shocked by the cold and react by dropping leaves or turning yellow. Well, the same holds true for fall when we move the plants inside, but many of us forget to acclimate the plants early enough so they are not shocked by the severe drop in humidity, light and rise in temperature when moved indoors. This year we seemed to go right from summer to winter with the drastic change in temperature and if we were just now bringing in our plants from outside they probably went through a sort of culture shock.
Plants should be moved back in for fall when the night temperatures start to approach 60o F and before any chance of a frost or freeze. After the move indoors some minor leaf yellowing and leaf drop will probably occur because the plant is readjusting to the indoor conditions. This is OK as long as it corrects itself within about six weeks. If it continues there may be some other issues. One of the most important chores to take care of when preparing to relocate the plants back into the home is to inspect them for pests (insect and disease). If the plant has insect pests, bringing them in on the foliage may allow populations to explode as the pest is also happy to be moving in out of the cold. It's a good idea to check the foliage, trunks, stems, container and soil surface area for any signs of insect and/or disease before bringing them inside. Many plants benefit from a cleaning before going in, this can be accomplished by showering the plant with a hose spray or by wiping the foliage with a very mild solution of room temperature water and liquid soap. This cleaning will also give you time for an inspection of the entire plant and the soap wash will take care of most insect problems. Also cleaning the container sides and bottom will help eliminate any pests hitching a ride. Be sure any insect or disease problems are controlled before placing the plant indoors with the other plants. Taking care of these problems before moving the plants indoors, also keeps the mess out of doors and any problems from spreading to plants already in the home.
To avoid another potential problem remember to readjust your watering and fertilizing schedules to accommodate the changes in temperature, light and humidity indoors. These changes will help the plant adjust to the change in environment. Remember winter calls for lower temperatures and shorter days which will result in slower or no growth so less watering and little to no fertilization will be needed.
Alabama Cooperative Extension has a wonderful publication on caring for interior foliage plants which also discusses selection, maintenance and troubleshooting for interior foliage plants. If you are interested in foliage plants for the home or office I highly recommend this publication you may view it online at our website, www.aces.edu or come into our office and pick one up. The name of the publication is "Home Selection and Care of Interior Foliage Plants" number ANR-1242, or http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-1242/ANR-1242.pdf
Wendy G. Ulrich,
Plant Diagnostic Lab Technician
Alabama Cooperative Extension System
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