Autumn Plant Care: To Bring Inside or To Not

Autumn Plant Care: To Bring Inside or To Not

Leaves are falling, coats have to be worn but what about your summer plants? It can be confusing to know how to take care of our plants as it gets colder and hopefully this guide will help answer some questions. It is important to know some key terminology: Growing Zone, Perennial, Annual, First frost, Overwintering. 

Indoor garden of rosemary, thyme, and lavender.


What is my Growing Zone?

A grow Zone uses climate data to determine what conditions a plant might best live under. Based on this, locations across the United States are given a growing zone. While you can have plants that are not within your grow zone, it is better to keep those plants inside and make sure that depending on what it likes is not in direct heat nor direct drafts. A popular house plant, the snake plant is a great example as it is originally from South Africa and cannot handle much cold and thus should be kept inside in zones colder than 9. 

Chicago is zone 5b.

Use this  Zone Finder by the United States Department of Agriculture.


Perennial vs. Annual

These terms are often mixed up since they are not intuitive. 

Perennial → Will come back again and may live from 3-5 years. 

Annual → Only last one season and will not come back. 

It is good to know if your plant is perennial or annual to see whether it is worth it to repot the plant and bring it inside. Annuals tend to be inexpensive and have bright season long blooms while perennials tend to bloom for a shorter period of time and may be more expensive. No matter the price or how long it bloomed it is a good rule of thumb to do a quick google search to see what you plant is. 


First Frost

Frost on a plant's leaves and branches

Frost is a thin layer of ice crystals caused by freezing water vapor cooling on surfaces. This can often kill the tops of plants and thus is widely referred to as a date by which to decide what you do to your outside plants. Check out this predictor for the first frost by the Farmer’s Almanac. 

While past climate data can be helpful for predicting dates, due to climate change it is more and more difficult to accurately predict climate patterns and events. Pay attention to the local weather once mid-October rolls out to make sure you don’t miss it. 

As of 10/20 the predicted first frost is 10/29/20, Spooky!


Overwintering 

Some types of plants will overwinter and die back to their roots. They might appear to be dead when in reality they are still alive and continue to grow roots underground. Overwintering means to keep over winter and it can be done by bringing plants inside in pots but holding off on water and fertilizing too much. This allows for the plant to go dormant.

Some types of plants will overwinter and die back to their roots. They might appear to be dead when in reality they are still alive and continue to grow roots underground. Overwintering means to keep over winter and it can be done by bringing plants inside in pots but holding off on water and fertilizing too much. This allows for the plant to go dormant.

Some recommend to place the roots or tubers of plants in paper bags and hang upside down in dark rooms, but since I’ve never tried it myself I wouldn’t recommend it. Let us know if you’ve tried it and have been successful! Many perennials overwinter and should be planted in autumn as it allows for the roots to establish themselves.

Geranium and citronella plants overwintering in living room window.
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Maddie Fernandez
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