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How do I bring plants indoors for winter?

Many people like to give their houseplants the chance to thrive outdoors for the summer. When fall comes, they have vigorous, healthy plants that will remain attractive through the long winter months. As daylight hours decrease, however, and nights get colder, your thoughts should turn to the plants you must bring indoors. If left outside, most indoor plants will suffer from cold damage producing blackened or shriveled leaves, and a wilted appearance if temperatures hit the forties. So, plan your strategy to move them inside before it is too late. Here are a few tips.

First, you need to do some clean up. Remove any dead or diseased leaves and branches from the plant and the soil surface. This debris may harbor insects and diseases. Next, give them a good washing to prevent spider mites, white flies and aphids from coming in with the plants, and spreading to other plants or becoming a nuisance in the house. Washing plants will take care of most insect problems and remove dirt and debris. For large plants, use a garden hose. Smaller plants can be cleaned with a damp sponge. If an insect problem is discovered, spraying with a solution of a couple of drops of dishwashing detergent in a gallon of water will take care of them. There are also several relatively safe insecticides including insecticidal soap or a fine mineral oil. Read the labels carefully when using either material.

Although this is not the most ideal time to repot houseplants, broken or cracked pots can be replaced by lifting the plants out and placing them in a pot the same size. If you feel the plant must have a larger pot, choose a container about one inch larger in diameter. Plants kept in their original containers may need to be scraped to remove the salt that usually results from over- fertilization or fertilizer build-up due to shallow watering. Algal build-up signals poor air circulation or keeping the plant too wet.

Most plants will take some time adjusting to the light, humidity and temperature conditions found indoors. Be prepared for leaf drop. This is the plant's natural response to low light and drier air and should not be confused with a pathological problem. While some light pruning may be needed to match space constraints, thinning also assists the adjustment to the indoor conditions. If the plant does not grow after one month, other adjustments in the plant's care are needed.

The light and temperature requirements of each plant determines where to place these plants indoors, whether it be in a greenhouse, sunroom or scattered throughout the house. Natural light from east, west or south-facing windows work best. If lighting is poor, fluorescent or special plant lights provide the most efficient artificial lighting for plants. Plants tolerating only the lowest light levels like Chinese evergreens and philodendrons should be grown in north windows. Generally, temperatures between 65 and 70 F are acceptable for a wide range of houseplants. Be wary of placing them too close to windows. Also avoid freezing drafts or registers which blow dry heat.

Recognize that certain plants may require special treatment. For example, poinsettias and flowering cactus require 12 hours darkness each day to bloom. Winter blooming orchids and jasmine should be treated the same way. Ferns like regular misting but for other plants like African violets, water on the leaves can cause leaf spotting. Placing pots on rocks in trays of water helps to add humidity to the air. Regular dusting and wiping leaves with a damp sponge keeps them looking healthy, prevents pest problems and helps the plant maximize its use of light, air and moisture.

If you are looking for some variety in your indoor collection, try a few flowering annuals as houseplants. Generally, shade tolerant selections will perform the best. Everblooming fibrous begonias, coleus and even some impatiens add color to the home all winter if kept in a warm window. If dug from the garden, they should have a large root ball. Pot these in a loose well drained soil mix. Your potting mix should have perlite or vermiculite to create air spaces in the soil and ensure proper drainage.