PREPARING HOUSEPLANTS FOR INDOORS
By: Gary Garner Sr.
It’s time to prepare houseplants that have spent the summer outside to come inside for the winter. Obviously, you could just pick them up, bring them inside and let Mother Nature have her way. The other side of that is you don’t know what kind of undesirables you may bring in with them. Various varmints and diseases may well have found a home on the plants during their time spent outside.
First, I like to give my plants a thorough pruning. I want to remove all dead leaves and stems. If they need cutting back, I will prune them as much as I think they can stand. For example, I have some heirloom begonias that have been in my wife’s family for over a hundred years. They have grown to over three feet tall this summer. I will cut them back to 8 to 10 inches tall before bringing them inside. While pruning I will check the plants to see what kind of insects may be clinging to the plants, particularly on the underside of the leaves.
Next, I want to lay the plants on their side and give them a thorough bath with the garden hose. After setting them back up I take the hose and drench the soil until completely soaked to drown any little bugs hiding in the soil. I once brought a small 6-inch potted plant inside and placed it in the kitchen for the winter. A few weeks later the kitchen was overrun with small red ants. Turned out the ants had set up housekeeping in the pot for the winter. I didn’t know a 6-inch pot could contain that many ants. That was a few years back, but my wife still reminds me of the ant invasion every fall when I start to bring my plants inside.
Last, just before I bring them inside, I like to spray the plants with a houseplant insecticide. I try to hit the underside of the leaves and down where the leaf connects to the stem.
How late in the fall do you leave them outside? That all depends on the temperatures. Most of mine will come inside, or be covered at night, when I see a weather forecast that predicts temperatures dropping below 40. If the temperature is dropping below 40 at night but warming up during the daytime I throw an old sheet over them at night and remove it during the daytime.
A word of warning, never cover plants with plastic. It’s just as cold on one side of plastic as it is on the other. If you leave the plastic on during the daytime the sun may cook the plants through the plastic.
Things like Christmas Cactus can be left out through light frosts. They like the cool and seem to bloom heavier when left out later in the fall. I have seen recommendations to leave them through the first freeze. I haven’t had the nerve to do that, but I might try it with a plant this fall.
Once you bring the plants inside it’s time for a major decision. Where do you place them in the house for the winter? Remember the brightest spot in your house is only about half as bright as outside. If it’s a plant that needed full sun outside place it in the brightest area possible in the house. If it was a plant kept in a shady area outside, then you should be able to place it in a darker area inside. In general tropicals such as Hibiscus that require full sun will be difficult if not impossible to keep looking very good inside. You can save yourself some frustration and shove your tropicals in the corner of the basement or attached garage. They will go dormant (similar to an animal hibernating) and you can put them back out side next spring after danger of frost has past.
Try to keep plants away from heat ducts. If the room is well ventilated it helps. Most plants like cooler temperatures at night. If you get yellowing of leaves or leaves drop it’s likely due to a change in lighting or too much or too little water. The best water meter available is your finger. Touch the soil, if it’s dry water, if it’s damp leave it alone.
With a little good luck the plants will make it just fine. I have occasional problems with my houseplants every winter, but they survive.