Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
October, 2000
Regional Report

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My redbird houseplant has enjoyed the outdoors, but now it's time to move it inside for winter.

Moving Houseplants Indoors

Wasn't it nice to have a cold front move through to finally give us a break from the heat of this long, hot summer? Although warm days will return again before we really get into the cool season, it did help restore my hope that summer is over.

Houseplant Migration

I have some houseplants that spent their summers outdoors. They really love the warm temperatures and higher light levels in a shady outdoor environment. By the end of summer they've put on a lot of new growth and are much bushier than if I had kept them indoors. However, they detest the cold nights of fall and will not tolerate a frost. So it's now time to bring them in to their winter home. There are a number of ways to prepare houseplants for their seasonal migration indoors. Here's a checklist to make sure the move is a successful one.

Watch for Pests

While enjoying the outdoors all summer some of my plants have picked up a few hitchhikers hoping to catch a ride inside for winter. Scale, mealybugs, aphids, and mites are among the likely pests to attack houseplants.

In order to prevent these pests from coming indoors and becoming a major hassle I give my plants a thorough examination before bringing them in. A strong blast of water on the foliage and a couple of applications of insecticidal soap or summer oil, spaced 5 to 7 days apart, will take care of most mite and aphid problems. Not all plants are tolerant of these sprays, so if you're in doubt, test the spray on a few lower leaves before spraying the entire plant. Always check the label before using any pesticide to make sure it is approved for use on the plant and pest species you want to treat.

Stronger Remedies

Some serious pest problems may require use of stronger chemical remedies. That is why you want to treat for pests while the plants are still outdoors. In severe cases it may be best to compost a plant and get another one rather than risk bringing a not-quite-controlled problem indoors where other plants may be affected.

A Fall Trim

Plants that have become too tall, or in the case of vining types, too long, can be cut back a bit to shape them up before the trip inside. Ficus may drip their milky sap for a few days so wait until the pruning wounds dry up before bringing them indoors.

Lower Light Levels

The shadiest spot outdoors is usually brighter than most indoor locations. A sudden change in light intensity can shock plants, resulting in sudden leaf drop. Ficus species are particularly susceptible to such a change. Move the plants gradually to help them adjust to the lower light intensity.

Some experts recommend bringing them in for a few hours a day at first, gradually increasing the time over a few weeks. That is too much tedious work for me. I move them to a very dark outdoor location for a week or so, and then to a very bright indoor spot for another couple of weeks. Then they are usually ready for their final location. However, be prepared for some leaf drop whatever you do.

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