How to Debug and Clean plants to bring indoors for winter

It's getting cold here this week and I needed to bring my houseplants back in for winter. Plus, I have a few tender perennials that I take outside every summer. Those need to come inside, but I absolutely do not want to bring bugs in again! A few years back I ended up with Aphids on my miniature pepper plants inside my house! I am not dealing with that again.

Debug and Clean plants to bring indoors for winter

Ideally, you want to start bringing plants inside before the weather gets too cold. I'm so bad about this! I try to push it as long as possible so they can enjoy the outdoors and forget to check the forecast every week for temperatures that are going to be too low. Then suddenly I realize we're due for a frost tonight. Don't be like me! Start bringing your plants in before any chance of frost!

The perfect time to bring plants in is when outside temperatures are very similar to your house temperatures. This way there will be less shock when they move indoors. Considering that most people keep their homes in the 65-70 range, late September is probably when you'll want to do this. 

One of my favorite plants to bring inside for winter is the coleus, which makes a marvelous houseplant! Before you bring them in though, you need to clean the plants and debug them. Here's how I do it.

Debug houseplants for winter

The first thing I do is to rinse the plants with water from the hose. I hold the plants sideways and spray with water from hose lightly to clean and debug leaves. The water pressure should be high enough to dislodge bugs and grime, but not hard enough to harm leaves. Check leaves, stems and soil for visible pests. 

Pests will need removed manually or you can use an insecticidal soap if you have one. I like this one: Earth Tone Insecticidal Soap spray. Just follow the directions on the bottle. 

If you don't actually see signs of pests then this is not completely necessary, but of course this depends on your situation. If you battle spider mites or other small bugs frequently then the extra step is necessary. I like to make a spray of Dr Bronner's pure castile soap watered down at a ratio of 1 Tbsp Castile soap to 1 quart of water. Spray both the tops and underneath of leaves to get all remaining insects or eggs.

Spraying plants with insecticidal soap

Some people prefer to use Neem oil but it has an overpowering scent that I don't particularly like. However, it does work well.

How to clean the soil

You'll also want to rinse out the soil and clean the pot to prevent bringing in things like soil gnats. Dawn dish liquid does an amazing job of cleaning the soil without damaging the roots.
Fill a large bucket with water and add 1 Tbs classic blue Dawn dish liquid. Remove the plant from the pot if possible. Dunk the soil/roots in the mixture for a few minutes then remove. Allow to drain then rinse with clean water, drain again and repot. 

If your plant doesn't come out of the pot in one piece and the soil is falling all over the place, you can drench it instead. Instead of dunking the plant roots, pour the same mixture over the soil till it runs out the drainage holes. Allow to drain, then rinse with clean water. Allow to dry thoroughly before watering again! This should take longer than usual since the whole plant was soaked.

While you have the dawn mixture out (or the castile soap spray) wipe the outside and underside of the pot with it to clean away any debris and bacteria.

Before you're finished you want to look for bugs one last time. Repeat the water spray and insecticidal soap if you see bugs.

Bringing your plants indoors

Now that they're all cleaned up you can bring the plants inside, but you'll want to quarantine them for a month. If you only have a few southern windows and too many plants this might require a plant light for a few weeks. If you happened to push your time frame too far and it's much colder outside when you bring the plants in than it is inside, move them into a partially heated garage, unheated laundry room or just a closed off bedroom with the heat vents closed for at first so they can acclimate slowly to the warmer temps.

Wait about a week then move them to a room temperature area, or open the heat vents in their room. You'll want to check for bugs again about this time and again 2-3 weeks later. If still bug free, move your plants to where you will leave them for the rest of winter.

If at any time you see bugs repeat the water spray and insecticidal soap. You might need to target the exact bugs you're dealing with, like I had to do with the aphids. 

Be careful with watering your plants during the winter months. Most plants need less water in winter since they are not in the growing season. However you might want to run a humidifier in the room the plants are in, as homes tend to be drier in winter because of the heating systems.

Now that your plants are clean and pest free they will enjoy a healthy winter inside your home!

Related reading: Want more information on houseplants? Check out this collection of articles on indoor gardening.


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