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Winterize Your Garden: Bringing the Plants Indoors

Winterize Your Garden: Bringing the Plants Indoors

By Ron Harrison, Ph.D., Entomologist and Orkin Technical Services Director

For many gardeners, fall brings the end of beautiful blooms, the onset of lower temperatures and an annual ritual: helping plants and herbs survive by bringing them inside for the winter. Whatever the reason for the transition, it is important to keep in mind the possibility of pests hopping a ride indoors on those plants. And because conditions indoors and outdoors are so different, plants may not adapt well. A gradual reintroduction to the indoors is recommended to help houseplants acclimate to the new environment and to reduce the chances of unwanted hitchhikers. With that in mind, here are the top seven tips to help you care for your plants – and to help maintain a pest-free home – during the cooler months.

  • Understand your plants. Most native perennials are capable of withstanding harsh winters. For other more tender in-ground plants, their success depends on their roots’ ability to survive, so potting them may not necessary be the best recourse, even if parts of the plant die back. The ground retains heat, so roots stay significantly warmer and are less likely to freeze in the ground than in a container. Keeping the plants’ environment as consistent as possible is key to their survival, and the gardener’s art is in balancing when and how to try and create that consistency. When in doubt, contact a local horticulturist for recommendations.
  • Time the move properly. Bring plants indoors before temperatures dip below 50 degrees, as temperatures below that mark can traumatize some plants. The ideal transitition time is when outdoor and indoor temperatures are relatively similar.
  • Debug the plants. Sometimes pests will hitch a ride covertly with the plants. Before bringing any plants indoors, make sure to inspect thoroughly for pests in the two places they may dwell: the leaves or the soil.

Leaf-dwelling pests include aphids, spiders, mealybugs and lacewings. Inspect the undersides of leaves, as these insects like to hang out under the leaf surface. Check the intersection between leaves and stems as well.

Soil-dwelling pests include slugs, sowbugs, earwigs, fungus, gnats and ants. They are typically found in small containers on the outer layer of soil near the drainage hole of pots.

The following DIY methods can help remove pests from plants. If you take any of these actions, be sure to do so outdoors.

  • Spray soapy water on the plant to kill any pests hiding on leaves or stems.
  • For any plants in larger containers, apply an insecticide to the soil surface to remove them, and consider repotting plants or placing a thick cloth inside the base of the pot to keep pests from squeezing through the drainage holes.
  • Most pests do not like petroleum jelly, so applying it around the top of the saucer will prevent pests from venturing outside the pot.

If two to three weeks have passed with the plant indoors and no pest problems, things should be all-clear; pests will usually venture off of the plant within that time frame. It is important to keep in mind, however, that new pest problems can still arise because the pests are no longer kept in balance by their natural outdoor predators.

  • Change conditions gradually.  To acclimate plants, change their conditions gradually, starting by bringing them onto a patio area, then eventually bringing them into the garage or a shaded area around the home. This will help plants adjust to the change in lighting and environment. Keeping them in a shady area (such as a garage) for a couple of weeks before moving them indoors is ideal, so try to plan ahead before the cold weather hits. Start drying out  herbs in a shed or garage, then take them inside. Taking herbs indoors too early may increase the chances of bringing pests indoors.
  • Consider the location. Prior to bringing the plants indoors, be sure to identify a suitable place with conditions that can sustain them. Many plants need additional humidity due to recirculated air in the home. For plants that require humidity, group them together if possible, place them in a well-lit area or at least mist them regularly to ensure they remain properly hydrated. Additionally, be aware of plants like ivies and lilies that are toxic to children and ensure they are placed well out of reach.
  • Prune the plants. During the summer, some plants may grow fairly large or lose their shape. Prune early so they have a couple of weeks to recover before bringing them indoors. This will also encourage new growth on the plant.
  • Go easy on the fertilizer and watering. When bringing the plants inside to prepare for the weather, it is tempting to overwater or add fertilizer to plants because they don’t look as lush as they did outside. For blooming plants, watering and fertilizing once every two weeks is acceptable. For other plants, watering and fertilizing once a month will suffice.

The colder weather doesn’t have to spell the end for garden plants. Moving them inside could help save them from the bitter temperatures and extend their lives. It’s time to welcome plants home from their vacation and bring a little green inside for the cooler months ahead!

For more information on winterizing your garden, visit

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