Bringing In The Leaves

By Teo Spengler | September 16, 2021
Image by Angela Kotsell
by Teo Spengler
September 16, 2021

The old gospel song talks about the joy of bringing in the sheaves. But, come the first cold evenings of autumn, I sing a slightly altered version as I carry my tender outdoor plants into the shelter of my house. Since most of them are foliage plants, it seems appropriate to sing about bringing in the leaves. 

Exactly which plants I invite indoors and when I do it varies from year to year. And of course, where I am. Many more houseplants can survive outdoors in San Francisco than in Basque Country.

Saving Foliage Plants

Cold-sensitive outdoor plants often wear two hats: they act like annuals outdoors but turn into perennials inside the house. That is, many of the plants I install in my garden for the summer could live happily all winter indoors.

It’s too difficult to dig up every plant from my annual bed to protect them over the winter, and my home would get stuffed to the gills with pansies and other bedding plants if I tried this. And tropical plants require extra care indoors. But I do try saving foliage plants indoors since these are easy to tend inside and just as happy in the house as they are outside.

Begonias, Caladium and Coleus

The plants I regularly bring indoors include begonias, caladium and coleus. All offer gorgeous leaves, summer and winter, but do not do well in chilly weather. I particularly love rex begonias, which offer incredible foliage with many patterns, hues and textures, although coleus can also be spectacular. 

Caladiums are a relatively new addition to my outdoor houseplant collection. I appreciate the intricacy of the patterns on their leaves, with a magical mix of green, white, cream, pink and red foliage.

Bringing in the Leaves

I keep my eye on the weather and bring these plants inside when temperatures drop to below 55 degrees F. It is hard to say exactly when this is going to happen, given the great fluctuations in weather year to year, but early September is a good bet.

Begonias, caladium and coleus are all plants that like a little indirect sun, so finding an appropriate window sill isn’t hard. I usually place the begonias on pebbles in a saucer of water to increase the humidity. But I let their soil dry out between winter watering. Caladium and coleus like moist soil all year long.

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