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Gardening: Moving time for your outdoor plants

When nighttime temperatures begin to dip between 55 and 60 degrees, it’s time to bring your houseplants indoors. Lisa Eldred Steinkopf, known as the Houseplant Guru and author of "Bloom," and "Grow in the Dark: How to Choose and Care for Low-Light Houseplants" (Cool Springs Press), suggests moving them into a shaded area for a few days prior to making the move to help them adapt to the lower light conditions indoors.

When the heat goes, the humidity drops and with the exception of cactus, plants hate dry heat. Don’t be surprised if leaves turn yellow and drop. Your plant is adjusting. So don’t overreact and douse it with water every day. Some plants prefer to have their soil dry down a bit while others like moist soil. But sodden soil is a recipe for disaster. A moisture meter will help you gauge whether your plants need water. 

Some houseplant books recommend misting the plants with water a couple of times a day, but the mist dries quickly and does little good, and wetting the leaves can encourage disease.   Better is to place the plants on water-filled pebble trays. As the water evaporates, the moisture rises and so does the humidity around the plant. 

To make a pebble tray, take a saucer or shallow tray that’s larger than the  flowerpot and fill it with small pebbles. Add water to a depth that’s just below that surface of the stones. Beware — just sitting the pot in water will lead to root rot. The pebble tray needn’t detract from your decor. For a formal look, use a cut glass tray and glass or plastic crystals available at Michaels or Joan Fabrics. The possibilities are endless.

Air circulation will also keep your plants happy, and a small fan will do the trick. I have one that clips on a frame that holds my LED light fixture.

Last summer, I introduced the tiny, leafed Tradescantia ‘Pink Panther’ to a part shade outdoor garden using it as a ground cover, a lovely addition with its colorful pink and green leaves and it more than doubled in size. It’s a tender tropical usually grown as a houseplant, so I brought it indoors for the winter and parked it under my LED grow light in my office. It never lost so much as a leaf.  When all danger of frost was past, I replanted it in the garden and it thrived.

Many houseplants go dormant in winter, and they should not be fertilized from August through March. 

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at