As summer fades into fall, a gardener’s thoughts turn to saving favorite plants for next year. If you are like me and purchased several tropicals this year, you want to overwinter them in the house.
Most tropicals are very tolerant of indoor conditions as are other easy to grow plants brought inside such as begonias, streptocarpella, the coleus family, geranium, sweet potato vine, philodendron, Eugenia topiaries and others.
What is it about the inside of a house that makes it difficult for many plants? You probably would guess that low light levels are one potential problem. Your home has lower light levels to begin with and the short days of fall and winter also contribute to the problem. The second reason many plants don’t adapt to indoor conditions is low humidity. The air inside your home, especially in winter, tends to be very dry. Many plants do not do well with low levels of humidity. These two factors combined mean that many plants are not cut out to live indoors.
Be sure to bring your plants inside before frost has damaged the foliage. Choose only healthy plants to bring inside as the stress of the move will likely be the final blow to struggling plants.
If the plant has been in a rather sunny area you can help decrease the shock it will experience coming indoors by placing it in a shady spot for a week or so. This will get it used to lower light levels and make the transition easier.
Your plant may need to be pruned before you bring it in. Plants can generally be pruned back by as much as 1/2 without damaging the health of the plant. When pruning, use a sharp pair of pruning shears or scissors; you can also use a sharp knife. Clean your utensils between each plant. Use soapy water and rub them with alcohol to prevent any viruses from spreading. Be sure to remove any damaged or diseased portions of the plant.
Once you have your plants potted and pruned, it is time to inspect them for debris, disease and insects. Remove any dead foliage or other debris from the top of the pot. Dead and decaying foliage is a hiding place for insects and an incubator for diseases. Clean plants tend to be healthier.
Insect populations tend to increase and spread quickly indoors. If you see aphids or spider mites, you will want to use a spray to kill them. If the infestation isn’t large you can probably remove them by spraying the plant with a mixture of soap and water. A few drops of dish soap in lukewarm water can be very effective means of controlling insects. Spray the plant until it is dripping with the soapy mixture be sure to get the underside of the leaves and the stems. While checking for insects also look for disease. Common diseases include mildews and viruses. Mildew will generally be a white or grey powdery substance. Viruses will often cause the plant to have foliage that is yellowing, mottled, or stippled, the foliage just doesn’t look right. Mildew can be treated with the same soap and water mixture used against insects. If you think your plant has a virus, discard it and start new next spring.
Water the plant thoroughly before bringing it inside. Be sure to allow a good amount of water to run out of the drainage hole. This will help flush out any excess buildup of salt or fertilizer in the soil.
Charlene Thornhill is a volunteer citizen columnist, who serves The Daily Advocate readers weekly with her community column Along the Garden Path. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Viewpoints expressed in these publications are the work of community volunteers. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of its volunteers, but is pleased to offer this feature to readers.