For years I have participated in the annual “Race to Bring My Houseplants Inside before the Frost Kills Them” fall event.  You can’t miss this event—the local news channels broadcast their first “frost warning” around six o’clock in the evening, as if to fire off a starter pistol.  I always wear my lucky pajamas and carry the official roll of paper towels to wipe dirt and slugs off the bottom of the pots before cramming them all under my kitchen table. Then, over the following two days, I look desperately for spaces to set the plants where they will receive enough light to survive until the following May.  If you have been there yourself, my tip for you this year is START EARLY!
Hopefully, the few houseplants you placed outside for the summer will be returning to their regular winter homes.  If, like me, however, over the summer you have added considerably to your collection, or the plants have put on several feet of new growth, good plant real estate may be an issue.  Here are some steps to make the transition easier on your plants…it’s never going to be easy on you.
Your plants will adjust to the change in environment (light, temperature, and humidity) much better if you start early, before the central heat kicks in.  Of course you repotted your plants at the beginning of the growing season, and now they have grown into their new pots and are perfectly happy.  Of course!  Just in case you missed one or two, pot up extremely pot-bound plants into the very next sized container.
Before bringing plants in, look them over for signs of insect or disease problems.  Sticky leaves usually indicate a piercing/sucking insect like scale or mealybug.  Stippled leaves or very fine webbing are signs of spider mite infestation.  And if you lift your plants and tiny flying insects tear off in all directions, you either have whitefly or fungus gnats.
A hard water spray from your hose can dislodge aphids or regular spiders and daddy-long-legs from your plants, but you may need to treat with a soapy water or horticultural oil spray to kill scale, mealy, whitefly, and spider mites on leaves and stems.  There are also some systemic granules that can be added to the soil to control infestations.  A chlorine bleach solution (4 tablespoons bleach per gallon of day-old water) poured slowly and evenly through the soil should remove fungus gnat larvae, while white-fly traps—yellow paper strips coated with a very sticky substance—will catch adult gnats and whiteflies.  Check frequently to see that insects are under control and repeat treatments if necessary.
Look under pots (and inside pots) for slugs and remove any that you see.  Other critters may have taken up residence in the root ball, but most are not harmful to the plants.  However, if it creeps you out to know that pill bugs or other insects are crawling around the container, the bleach drench should take care of them as well.
For plant diseases…well, this area is a little harder.  There are chemicals to treat for fungus or bacteria—nothing for viruses (think of the persistent common cold)—but diagnosing the problem is much harder than identifying insect pests.  Some problems are obvious, but others are a mystery to the naked eye.  For prized plants, samples for diagnosis can be sent off to the labs at Virginia Tech through your local Extension Office.  However, infections in houseplants are far less common than insect infestations.
Wait a few weeks after bringing plants in to fertilize…they need a rest period in which to adjust to the new environment.  Remember that any watering schedule will have to change to meet new conditions.  Check the plants for watering needs frequently until you have a feel for this change.  The addition of central heat as the weather changes will also affect water use.
It’s a lot like dragging home from a vacation with a suitcase full of dirty laundry.  Once the laundry is done and the suitcases put away, life returns to a comfortable “normal”.  Plant care will too!
Posted: 10/9/2014 by Margot | with 0 comment(s)
Filed under: MargotGunn, TheGreatIndoors
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