It’s that time of year again isn’t it?! There has been a definite drop in temperatures + the sun seems to have made a departure from Northern skies for most of this week. Even though I’m not working at a University now, I can’t help but still get those ‘new term‘ feelings when September rolls around. So far this month, I’ve made a conscious effort to tidy up my desk, I’ve organised my desktop into folders + made an attempt to clear up my phone full of plant photos… I’m still working on that last point… Anyway, my attention has now turned towards my plants so in todays post I will be sharing how I get my houseplants ready for Autumn.
First of all, why? If you are new to keeping indoor plants, you might wonder what could be different about Autumn houseplant care — they are inside after all! Seasonal shifts can affect plants the same way as humans, so it’s a good idea to give them a bit of attention as you put your sandals away + get your sweaters out.
Here are the things I focus on to help keep my plants looking + feeling good into the colder months…
1. Reduce Watering
In this interim time where it’s getting cooler, but it’s not yet time to put on the central heating, your potting mix will take longer to dry out between waterings. This is the first tell-tale sign for me that Autumn has arrived; over Spring + Summer my bedroom plants (mainly various types of pothos) needed watering around once every 7-10 days. I checked the pots yesterday, one week after I’d previously watered + they are all still totally fine. Change is in the air so put down those watering cans!
If you struggle with getting houseplant watering right, I’d really recommend getting a hygrometer to check the moisture of your pots to ensure you aren’t overwatering, especially throughout the colder months. FYI, this is also a good piece of ‘houseplant gardening kit’ to give as a present — I got mine for my birthday a few years ago + still use it regularly. The other way of course is to stick your finger in the soil, but for beginner plant lovers, it can take a while to know what the right sort of moisture-levels are, so use in combination with a moisture meter + you will be able to teach yourself!
As your watering habits shift, you might start to notice a few yellowing leaves at this time of year, but don’t panic — it can be part of the natural life cycle of the plant as it adapts to autumn, with less light + lower temperatures. If you seem to be losing a few leaves in quick succession though, have a look at my blogpost ‘why are my leaves turning yellow?’ for some help in understanding what might be wrong.
2. Stop fertilising
If you have been feeding your houseplants over Spring + Summer, now is the time to wind things down if you live in a climate that gets pretty chilly over Autumn + Winter. In my own environment, I generally don’t feed my plants between October + April, so I’ll be giving them their last feed soon. As a note here, if your climate is quite different to mine + you find your plants grow year-round, then more regular fertilising is fine. The easiest way to judge whether or not to feed is if your plant has new leaves growing (active growth). But if you are reading this guide, I’m guessing it’s currently getting a little cold where you are!
Over the colder months, houseplant growth will slow down, your plants will have a rest + if it is cold enough, they might go dormant. There’s more on dormancy in my winter care guide I discuss at the end of the post.
3. Clean leaves
This is an important part of plant care year-round for me, but as light levels decrease, it’s a good idea to keep that foliage clean too. This will mean your houseplants can photosynthesise to the best of their ability when not shrouded in a layer of dust. Pay extra attention to leaves that have a big surface area such as monsteras + ficus elastica. Plants that are close to doors or in high-traffic areas can also be a bit of a dust-magnet, so bear this in mind too.
4. Re-pot, trim + tidy up
Another plant care task I’ve been working through this week is my last-minute repotting list. As I’ve reiterated before, it’s generally good practice to re-pot your plants at the beginning of the growing season so they have a period of time ahead to adjust + flourish in their new planter. But if you have noticed recently that one of your houseplants is unhappy, has roots growing out of the pot, or whose watering needs have drastically changed, there is no major issue to repot now. Saying that, as we get further into the season, be mindful that your plants are more likely to react adversely to this. Things to be careful of during autumn/winter are not to re-pot plants that are in the process of opening new leaves, and to consider whether the plant could wait a little longer. As a general rule, I don’t re-pot my ficus plant family over this time as they often go dormant, so I just let the plant naturally cycle through its own process with minimal interference from me. Be aware that if you have any ‘diva’ plants, they might throw a strop in protest of the temperature decrease.
The other autumn-prep activity that feels quite therapeutic for me is trimming + tidying my houseplants in readiness for the winter plant shift (more on that below). I like to remove any dried up leaves, prune back any long unruly stems + just give things a general tidy up. If you also give some of your plants a trim, propagating these cuttings is a nice process to engage in over the cooler months. Be aware that propagation when colder can take longer + might not be as successful as in spring + summer, but I’ve not encountered any problems to this effect.
If I’m in a plant-styling kind of mood I like to create a relaxed ritual by putting on a pot of coffee, getting out my stash of unused plant cache pots (I hoard them) + mixing things up! The combination of plant + planter is one I love to experiment with so this creates an opportunity to give my potted plants a bit of a re-fresh.
5. Move your plants around
This is what I will be up to over the weekend! The seasonal plant switch-around is a necessary part of autumn plant care here at HPH. This happens a few times over the year as the intensity of light fluctuates; it’s important to listen to your plants! My windowsills are south-eastern + north-western in position which means that over summer, cacti, succulents + light loving plants take up residence, whereas in winter when they go for their rest period, I’ll switch them out for other plants that are in need of higher light levels.
I haven’t spent a winter here yet, so I will need to be mindful of draughts from badly fit windows or doors (I can see the sky through the one in the kitchen!), or windows you might open for ventilation. My previous apartment was listed + as a result only had single-glazed windows, so I am used to not putting too much too close — cold night time temperatures can cause your plant some damage. It sounds a bit extreme but be careful that the foliage of your plants is not touching the window pane, or a cold wall as this can also make your plant unhappy.
The ideal place is close to windowsills; prime positions in all the rooms here, where I’ve set up a table or two in readiness for some plant groups to hang out together. Huddling plants together is also a great way of keeping the humidity up a little. Being far enough away from the window to not be too affected by the cold outside, yet close enough to get adequate light is what you are aiming for.
Lastly, if you set any of your plants up outside over the warmer months then it’s time to bring them in (if you haven’t already). Remember to give everything a close inspection — I use a torch to check over all parts of the plant before hosing it down. Because I keep outdoor plants too, I’ll often do a soil change if anything looks a bit suspicious + spray with SB invigorator before isolating them from my main houseplants for a few weeks until I’m happy there are no pests lurking. I haven’t put any of my plants outside this summer, but I do use my back door step to put plants that need some attention. I accidentally left my kentia palm there a few nights ago + it got some cold + wind damage! I’ve popped it back in the bathroom now + hoping it makes a good recovery. Those dark crispy bits just came from one night outside so I have learnt my lesson that it is indeed, colder up North!
6. Consider grow lights
This is very much dependent on your location + also what type of space you have, but if you struggle with your plants over autumn + winter, adding in supplementary lighting to your plant care routine can really make a difference. I’m going into my third year of using grow lights with my houseplants + I am going to invest in a few more bulbs for this
black hole of a cottage! The windowsills are bright but the light intensity drops off quite severely from there on in + the darker corners are in serious need of some extra illumination if I have any chance of keeping my plants looking their best. My old apartment, which was on the second floor actually felt brighter over winter when the leaves had dropped from the big trees outside my windows. I’ve got an entire blogpost on grow lights for happy houseplants here.
7. Houseplant Winter Care
Alongside all these points above which focus on transitional plant care, when it gets into winter, have a read of my ‘HPH Winter care guide’ here for some more specific cold-weather points to consider.
I hope this post has given you some inspiration for how to approach getting your houseplants ready for Autumn,