Bringing outdoor plants inside for the winter

As the days get shorter and the threat of frost begins to near, it becomes time for gardeners to bring any plants worth saving indoors. Whether that means the houseplants we put on the patio for the summer, or the geraniums we want to try and overwinter for next year.

A question comes up from ­gardeners every fall: How can I bring my houseplants in from outside without ­bringing in spiders or other insects with it? And it’s a great question to ask.

We once had a call at the Extension office from a gardener who had found a garden snake in her guest room. Upon further questioning, we ­realized that she had recently brought her houseplants back inside, but with an added visitor this time. Insects are a concern, but other critters can ­certainly hitch a ride as well.

There are a few strategies in order to help ensure clean plants are brought back in:

1. Clean up the plants: First remove any dead or dying foliage and spent flowers. Give the container a very thorough watering to flush out any potential insects. Let water run fully through the container at least several times.

2. Spray down with the hose: Spray the above ground portions of the plant well with the hose to blast off any insects, making sure to get the undersides of the leaves and stems as well.

3. Submerge the root ball: If you are concerned about insects in the soil, consider submerging the plant’s root ball. Submerging smaller plants in water for 15 ­minutes can help send insects that were in the soil ­scrambling for higher ground. I wouldn’t recommend this ­strategy for plants that prefer a dry soil, as the soil will be very saturated after this soaking. Also, this is not recom­mended for plants that you are ­bringing in to go dormant, like ­succulents for examples. These need dry soil through their dormant period.

Bring containers inside to the garage after submerging to allow them to dry out a bit before bringing in the house. Continue to monitor your watering well after this to ensure that the plant is not overwatered.

4. Scrub the pots well: Scrub your containers thoroughly before bringing them in. Spiders like dark moist places on the bottoms of pots to leave their eggs to hatch.

5. Move to a shady area: Not so much for insects, but for the health of your plants. Move your ­containers to a shadier area for a few days to slowly acclimate them to lower light conditions. This can help prevent some of the yellowing and leaf drop that normally occurs when bringing plants from outdoors to inside.

6. Repot and prune if ­necessary: If the plant has outgrown the container, consider ­repotting it into a container that is at least two inches larger. If pruning is necessary, do not remove more than one-third of the growth.

If these strategies are followed, you should be able to ensure a clean and healthy plant to enjoy indoors again for the winter.

Candice Hart is a Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension serving DeWitt, Macon and Piatt ­counties. She is also a Certified Floral Designer, Illinois Certified Professional Florist and is an award winning floral designer.