Ask Burton: This week, we’re looking at your tender plantings in pots, and how to protect them this time of year. Q: How do I over-winter my potted houseplants that normally live on my back porch during the warmer months?

A:  Hopefully you’ve already pulled them inside, or else you’ve already lost them this season since we’ve experienced freezing weather.  Here are some pointers to keep your plants healthy until we warm up next year:

  1. No plant does well in a dark room all winter. Houseplants brought in won’t like to remain in a dark room or the typically lightless garage all season long. They’ll tolerate it for stretches of time, long enough for the weather to warm up from an individual freezing event, but plants kept in very dark areas for many weeks will start to defoliate. You’re likely to lose some leaves in the best case scenario, as the plant will still be in a darker area indoors even with good windows and lighting, but minimize this drop by putting the plants in a sunny room when possible.
  2. Move the plants back outside during stretches of warm weather. It’s more labor for you, but your plant will be much happier for it. Take advantage of mild stretches of weather to get your plant some real sunshine.
  3. Don’t over water plants held inside. Most plants indoors are perfectly fine with one good watering a week, and sometimes less depending upon what kind of plant it is. One special mention here – avoid placing your plants under a vent or next to a floor heater whenever you can, as this will cause the plant to dry out much more quickly than normal.
  4. Take a break with the fertilizer. You can pick back up with normal fertilization in early March, but the reduced light right now isn’t conducive to growth, and fertilizer will be mostly wasted. Only feed your houseplants in winter if you have grow lights over your plantings, or if you’re showing serious nutritional deficiencies.

Even if your houseplants lose a few leaves across the course of the winter, sunshine and a good shot of fertilizer in early spring, as soon as temperatures allow, will kick the plants back into good growth, and they’ll be pretty again in a very short period of time.

Burton specializes in diagnosing and solving plant problems. If you have a question for Burton, please email him at and include photos showing the problem.