Get rid of bugs before you bring plants indoors for winter

houseplants in Amherst NY
Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

 

by Connie Oswald Stofko

Here’s a question I got from a reader:

Hi Connie,

I was wondering if you had any suggestions about debugging houseplants that were outside for the summer, before bringing them back inside the house.

I have a few plants to bring indoors and noticed little red spiders crawling around. I’m reluctant to have them back in my house. So, are there any “natural” sprays?  Should I just “ditch” them?  Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Btw, love your newsletter…

Thank you,
Pam Weinrieb

At this time of the year, many gardeners are bringing plants inside for the winter, so I thought this would be a good question to tackle.

No, you probably don’t have to ditch plants that have bugs on them, but what steps you take depends on the kind of pests you have. I’ll direct you to some great articles that can guide you.

If you’re not sure what pest you’re dealing with, or if you need more detailed information, contact the Master Gardeners in your county.

Note: Pam Weinrieb has beautiful gardens. See photos here. 

Look for pests before you bring plants inside

Pam Weinrieb noticed she has something on her plants.

But if all you do is look at the plant, you may miss a source of pests– the soil.

Take the plant out of the pot to see what might be in the soil. Pests may have crawled in through the drainage holes.

That’s one of the tips on preventing and dealing with pest infestations on house plants from the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences at Clemson University.

I wish I had looked at the soil when I brought my amaryllis in last fall. It wasn’t until February, when the beautiful amaryllis flowers were blooming indoors, that I noticed ants. The ants didn’t stray far from the pot, so I just ignored them until it was warm enough to set the pot outside again. However, this year, I will definitely check for ants before I bring the amaryllis bulbs in.

If you have to repot a plant, or in the case of amaryllis, bulbs, the folks at Clemson say you should use commercially prepared potting soil rather than soil from outdoors, which can be a source of pests.

Quarantine your plants

When you bring your plants inside, you should keep them away from other plants for six weeks, according to the Clemson article. About once a week, check for pests. Pay particular attention to the undersides of leaves where pests are most often found. Using a 10X magnifying lens will make it easier to see small pests and immature pest stages. Infestations are often much easier to control if caught early.

Washing smooth-leaved plants every two to three weeks discourages pest infestations and also improves the appearance of foliage. Small plants can be inverted and swished in a bucket of lukewarm water. To prevent loss of soil, cover the soil with aluminum foil.

Large plants can be hosed down gently, or upper and lower surfaces of leaves can be wiped with a soft, wet cloth. Large plants can also be rinsed in a tepid shower.

Treating houseplants

What steps you should take depends on what pests you have and how badly the plant is infested. You may be able to pick pests off by hand, wash them off or wipe them off with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol.

If those don’t work, there are other steps you can try. See the entire Clemson article here.

More information on treating pests on houseplants is available in this factsheet from Rockland County Cornell Cooperative Extension.

More help with houseplants

Several of the Cornell Cooperative Extension sites in Western New York have great information about houseplants. You’ll find information on the sites in Niagara County, Chautauqua County, Cattaraugus County and Orleans County.

The Cornell Cooperative Extension site for Allegany County includes some information the others don’t have, including how to force bulbs, care for indoor plants that are common around Christmas and propagate plants.

If you don’t take precautions in early autumn, you may find you have a problem with your houseplants during winter. At that point, you may want to read the article by Steven Jakobi, Allegany County Master Gardener volunteer, on winter bugs.

How to get your questions answered

Readers often contact me with questions that I can’t answer. I’m not a gardening expert– I’m a writer by profession. I interview knowledgeable people in order to provide you with great articles on Buffalo-NiagaraGardening.com.

So when someone asks a question I can’t answer, sometimes I post the question and rely on my readers to share their expertise.

Sending a question to me to post can be helpful if you’re looking for a wide range of opinions and don’t mind waiting for the answer. If you want to try this route, email the question to me at connie@buffaloniagaragardening.com and I’ll pose it to my readers in an upcoming issue.

However, don’t send me questions:

  • To find out what is wrong with your plant
  • To identify a particular plant or insect
  • If you need an answer quickly

To find out specific information like that, ask the Master Gardeners with Cornell Cooperative Extension or turn to your local garden center. They can give you the information you need.

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