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How to save your plants from dying this winter

Move your plants inside now to save them from a frosty doom.

Autumn frosts are coming, which means your container garden needs to move indoors. Many plants can brought inside, kept alive and even thriving, through the winter months. It just takes a little transitioning to get them used to their new environment. 

Follow this guide and you'll keep your plants healthy year-round.

Start moving before it gets too cold

Plants need to be transitioned indoors before the outside temperature starts dropping below 45 degrees F (7 degrees C) at night, according to the University of Vermont Extension Department of Plant and Soil Science

If it's a tropical plant -- such as a potted lemon tree or passion flower -- you'll want to start the transition before temperatures hit 50 degrees F (10 degrees C) at night.

Find the right space inside

Before you start, make sure you have an adequate area indoors to move your plants to. You'll need to consider light, temperature and humidity.


Sunlight is the biggest factor. If the plant likes shade or partial shade, most windowsills will be adequate. 

But if it's a sun-loving plant, you may need to add a growing light. A growing light or growing lamp has special bulbs that mimic natural sunlight. 

This gives your plants the nutrition they need, no matter how much sun your room gets. Look for one with a timer so it can automatically turn itself on and off. You'll want to give full-sun plants around 16 hours of light from a growing lamp per day.

Heat and humidity

Cacti aside, most plants like at least some humidity. Inside your home, heaters and fireplaces can dry out the air, so if you have room in your bathroom by a window, that's an ideal spot a few plants. If not, don't worry. Adding a small cool humidifier to the room where your plants will be is good enough.

Finally, consider temperature. Keep your plants away from heaters, air vents or fireplaces to help keep the temperature they live in more constant.

Making the transition

Moving your plants inside needs to happen slowly. They are acclimated to certain temperatures, humidity and light throughout the day. If you suddenly bring them inside, where those conditions are different, they may go into shock. This can kill a plant or at least make it sick for a few weeks.

There are two ways to make the transition. It all depends on what types of plants you are moving.

Bring the shade-loving plants inside to their new home every day for a couple hours. Extend the time a little each day until you get to six hours of continuous indoor time.

For sun-loving plants, move them into a shady area, like under a tree, for around two weeks. After their time in the shade is over, move them inside.

No matter if you have a shade or full-sun plant, you need to trim back some growth around the time you start making the transition. The new growth will be acclimated to the indoors environment, making for a healthier plant.

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Get rid of bugs

Sometimes when I'm transitioning plants, I'll notice that there are insects living in their dirt. Not wanting to bring those into my home, I take steps to get rid of them. Plus, aphids, mealybugs, and other insects that aren't much of an issue outside can end up infesting your plant when brought indoors. 

The best way to deal with bugs to soak the plant in a bucket of water with a drop of mild soap (such as castile) for 15 minutes. This will kill the bugs without pesticides. 

Only do this with plants in pots with drainage holes and don't use this method for cacti, succulents and other plants that can't tolerate a lot of water.

Water right

During the cold months, your potted plants won't need much care. Water them only when the soil is dry to the touch. Overwatering can cause root rot and eventually kill your plant, so don't get too enthusiastic with watering.

If it's a succulent, you can wait even longer. Wait until the soil has been dry for several days before watering again. 

Need more plant tips? Check out CNET's gardening guide.

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