Fall Plant Care: 8 Essential Tips
Is it time to trade in your summer shorts for jeans and a coat? Just as we need to swap out our wardrobe with the changing seasons, plants require unique specified care depending on the time of year. From watering frequency to pest maintenance and prevention, here’s everything you need to know about preparing your green friends for the fall and winter months.
Do I Need to Change My Plant Care Routine in the Fall?
Yes! Each season brings about environmental changes that affect your plants’ health and care needs. Indoor tropical plants will be directly affected by the decreased sunlight, colder temperatures, and drier conditions. As the days become shorter and cooler, your plants will use less energy and may even enter a period of dormancy.
Knowing how the change in season affects your indoor plants will help you properly adjust your care routine to keep your plants happy and healthy until the next growing season. These are a few of the main care points to keep in mind.
1. Cooler temps mean less water
While you may think you’re doing your plant a favor giving them extra water in the drier fall and winter months, one of the biggest stressors on plants this time of year is actually overwatering. Plants experience a period of decreased growth in the fall and winter, with some even becoming dormant. This is because there is less light for them to photosynthesize and use as fuel to grow. As a result, they are using less energy, and do not require as frequent watering. Giving your plants too much water when they’re not growing can lead to issues like root rot and an increased likelihood of pests.
Make sure to keep a close eye on your plants’ moisture levels before watering. While surface soil can very quickly dry out, you’ll want to make sure you’re checking the soil further below the surface before watering. For smaller plants, one easy way to do this is to stick your finger into the first few inches of soil to get a feel for the soil’s moisture. For larger plants, using a Soil Probe to reach the soil in the root zone is the best way to examine the deeper levels of the soil. You can learn more about using Soil Probes at our blog post here.
Additionally, using sub-irrigation can be a useful way to make sure that your plant is not getting overwatered. Self Watering Planters are designed to water your plant from the roots up, allowing your plant to only drink as much as it needs. Self watering planters deliver water directly to the plants’ roots, removing any guesswork on how thirsty your plant is. The water reservoir allows the plant to drink at its own pace and visually shows you when it is time to water with an empty reservoir. Learn more about sub-irrigation with our Self Watering Planters here.
2. Move plants away from heaters (and consider increasing humidity)
As you turn up the toasty temps in your home, make sure you’re not accidentally cooking some of your favorite plant friends. Heaters dry out the air, and can be especially harmful to plants located too close to heating units. Your plant collection may require a bit of rearranging as you use your heater more often. Relocating your plants further from heaters will help avoid drying them out.
Additionally, you can increase the humidity for your plants using a number of techniques. The easiest, most effective way to add some humidity is by investing in a humidifier and placing it near your plants. You can also group your plants together and try creating a humidity tray using a saucer and aeration stones to release more moisture into the air around your plants. Simply place the stones into a shallow tray (our Fiberglass Saucers work great!) and add water. The water will slowly evaporate and increase the moisture in the air around your plants. Just make sure that the water isn’t covering the bottom of your planters, or else you risk drowning the roots of your plants and developing root rot. Finally, regularly misting your plants with our Airless Mister can help keep leaves clean and prevent pests like spider mites which are more common in dry environments.
3. Reconsider light needs
With shorter days and less direct sunlight, you may need to give some of your plants a better light source. Consider moving plants that require more light to a south-facing or west-facing window if they are not already placed there. Additionally, you can also add grow lights to your home to better control the amount of light your plants are getting. If you are already using grow lights with some of your plants, you can leave them on for a few hours longer than normal. Pro tip: If you’re unsure about how to assess the light in your home, check out our guide to measuring light for plants.
4. Cool it with the fertilizer
Again, your plants will grow at a much slower rate in the colder months, and may even go dormant. While regular fertilizing is a must in the spring and summer growing months, fertilizing in the fall and winter can actually be harmful to the health of your plants.
Fertilizing during this time of year is unnecessary and can lead to a buildup of salts in the soil, as plants’ metabolisms are decreased and unable to absorb the excess nutrients. Give your plants a break and put the fertilizer away until the spring.
5. Watch for cold drafts and bring frost-sensitive plants indoors
Did some of your plants go on patio vacation mode over the summer? As temperatures drop, you’ll need to bring frost-sensitive plants back inside. As soon as temperatures dip below 55 degrees, tropical houseplants will begin to suffer. Make sure to transition them back inside before it gets too chilly.
For your indoor-only plants, you’ll still want to stay aware of the temperature and cooler air. Cold drafts can quickly harm tropical houseplants, and some blooming varieties can decline rapidly — even after just a few minutes. Be mindful of drafty doors and windows, and if you are opening a window for some fresh air, consider moving your plants first so they are not in direct contact with the cold air.
6. Watch out for pests!
Pest prevention and maintenance is a year-round chore — and the fall and winter is no time to slack. As it gets colder outside, pests will find their ways indoors to warmer climates to spend the winter in. To make matters worse, many pests like spider mites, thrips, and mealybugs thrive in drier conditions. It’s essential to catch any outbreaks early on before the overall health of the plant is compromised. You can use our Guide to Common Houseplant Pests to identify any little buggers that your green friends may catch.
Routine maintenance will not only help you be aware of outbreaks as they arise, but can also help reduce the risk of infestation. Periodically wiping down the foliage of your plants with a rotating mix of neem oil, horticultural soaps, and warm water can help keep most pests at bay. We recommend doing this every 2 - 4 weeks.
As a reminder — having the occasional pest outbreak doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with you or your plants! Having pests is annoying, but it’s normal. Check out our blog post on normalizing and treating pests here.
7. Remember that your plants are resting
Slower growth? Losing leaves? Don’t fret. You can expect some normal foliage dieback as your plant adjusts to the lower light levels and temperatures — especially if it lived outdoors over the summer. The tips listed in this article will help you keep your plants happy for the most part, but even with the best care, you can expect some normal signs of slower growth and even dormancy.
If you notice that your plant is losing a large amount of leaves or showing other signs of distress, you may want to troubleshoot common issues like overwatering or pest infestation.
8. Only repot plants if necessary
Ideally, it’s best to do all of your repotting during the spring and summer growing months. Repotting stimulates new growth, and doing so before or during your plants’ resting period can actually cause more harm than good.
In the fall and winter, only repot plants that have completely outgrown their containers or need refreshed soil. Some tell-tale signs that your plants need to be repotted during the colder months are roots that are poking out of the drainage hole or top of the container, extremely dry soil (even with increased watering), and an excessive amount of foliage loss and yellowing.
Get tips on how to properly repot your plant here.
The takeaway — change is good!
Just as your day-to-day routine changes over the year, your plants’ care needs also evolve with the seasons. Allowing your plants to get some rest with decreased watering and fertilizing and staying on top of pests and humidity levels will help ensure they have a happy dormancy period and are ready for the next growing season.