Originally Published: September 23, 2006 4 a.m.
By Halloween, Yavapai County will be under nightly frost. As the seasons transition, the shorter days and chilly nights shock most container plants, turning them into ugly black gelatinous masses. With just a little planning, even lush tropicals can be brought indoors and enjoyed throughout the winter.
Unfortunately, if you don't act until the first frost warnings come out, it will be too late. If you want to salvage some of your container plants, they should be brought indoors around the middle of October. Making the big move takes time and a little energy, but if done correctly your plants will provide winter-long enjoyment, thrive in good health and be ready for their spring move back to the patio after their "winter vacation."
Give them shade There is much less light indoors, and plants need to acclimate to this new
environment. So before bringing them inside, give them at least seven to 10 days in a shadier spot, maybe under a tree. For plants that have spent the summer in shade, find an even shadier place to begin their acclimation.
The Big Cut This is the time to give these plants their fall haircuts. Prune off dead flowers, yellowed leaves, and anything else you consider unsightly. With a few snips, give shape and balance to the remaining foliage. This cosmetic touch-up also allows for maximum air circulation, which reduces bacteria and fungal growth. This is not a buzz cut, only a trim; so leave on lots of the green leaves. Plants normally will lose some foliage when first brought inside, and they need many leaves to collect enough sunlight for winter survival indoors.
Give them the Big Flush Water contains a good deal of salt and minerals which build up in the soil and on the containers. Flush each plant with at least a gallon of water until the water is flowing freely from the bottom of the container. Another goal of this more than generous watering is to drown and flush insects living in the soil, so Š flush, flush, flush!
Don't Bug Me Bugs will be washed out of the soil but insect eggs may remain, and the warmer environment indoors will cause those eggs to hatch fast. The results are huge indoor colonies of aphids, earwigs, spiders, mealy bugs and fungus gnats. To head off these unwanted plant tenants, spray them with Neem Oil a couple of weeks prior to bringing your future houseplants indoors. Saturate the stems, foliage, and base of each plant with this organic spray. It not only kills unwanted pests, but it has a naturally residual repellant effect as well.
A Clean Affair Take this opportunity to clean up the outside of the containers. Wash and brush off mineral residue, debris, and dirty spots that have settled on the pots. Less-than-pristine containers are common on a patio, but less than welcome in a living room.
A New House Now is the time to consider repotting. If plants have been hard to keep watered, or the roots noticeably spiral around or bunch up in the pot, it is time to repot into the next larger size container. Contrary to popular belief, houseplants like to be slightly root bound. Too much soil causes plants to concentrate their energies on putting out new roots, which will affect flower count and reduce leaf formation. More important to repotting is not the container, but the use of the best potting soil. Check local garden centers and ask for a professional mix or good quality potting soil.
Soil Insects Gone One week prior to bringing the plant indoors, be sure to apply a systemic insecticide. Systemics usually come in granules that are simply sprinkled on the soil. When plants are watered, the insecticide is released and soil-loving insects are killed.
If you think your garden will look naked after that first frost, replant with cool season flowers that enjoy those nightly frosts. This is the best time to plant pansies, ornamental kale, dusty miller, and mums, all of which are available now in local garden centers.
Give me a call if you have questions about turning outdoor plants into houseplants, or questions about any garden-related topic. Each Saturday, 7 to 8 a.m., I host a garden show, "Gardening in Granite," on KYCA radio 1490 AM. Call in and/or listen to others as we discuss gardening topics applicable to our local area.
Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.