By Stephanie Hudak
Well, it’s time to think about those beautiful tropical plants that have been on the porch all summer. You can bet they will be kicking and screaming as you drag the pots into your hot and dry home, but they will thank you for it when those cold days finally reach us. Admittedly we can have a mild winter and even the tropicals will tolerate the cooler temperatures for a while. But if “My Precious” is out there you might want to start the process of bringing it in.
The very first thing to do is examine each plant closely, and I mean closely. Look under the leaves, on the stems, in the crevices and even the soil. If you have white fly or spider mites on your landscape plants, there is every reason to expect they will have found Precious and munched away. While white fly adults are easy to see, remember the other stages aren’t. Spider mites are nearly invisible to see, but stippled leaves will let you know they are living on the underside of the leaf. A worse enemy is the mealy bug because once you see the cottony white adults, you are in trouble. They particularly like to live in the crown of a plant where they are hard to see and hard to eradicate. Dabbing them with a Q-tip dipped in alcohol kills the adult but there are still the other stages, so it may take several attempts before they are gone. Sometimes it is better to just toss the plant so others don’t get infected; but if it is Precious, you can isolate her and watch it carefully. There are also aphids, who love any new growth – fertilizer equals new growth which equals aphids. And just to make it harder, they come in several colors: green, yellow and black. Another pest is scale which looks like a small brown bump. (Those on your fern are really spores so don’t panic.) This pest needs horticultural oil to control it but for most of the others Lowe’s sells Safer Insecticidal Soap in a convenient spray bottle that works well. There are homemade remedies but I hardly find time to feed myself let alone cook up something for the bugs.
Coming in from ideal outdoors to dark and dry indoors is going to be a shock to the plants, so be prepared for leaf drop or yellowing. And that brings up watering – slow it down and maybe even stop. Cacti and succulents need very little water when they don’t get full sun. Mine go a month without water – well, part of that is because I put them on a high shelf and forget them. But they survive and maybe it’s just because I don’t water too much. When you do water pour enough so that it runs out the bottom hole and then discard what is in the saucer, otherwise the water will wick back up and keep the soil too wet which causes root diseases.
One of the major contributors for pest problems indoors is lack of humidity. You can help by adding pebbles to the saucer. This is the exception to the rule of draining the excess water. Since you won’t be watering the plant very often, it is OK to add water to the pebbles, just make sure the pot is on the pebbles and not in water. The general rule of thumb about fertilizer is don’t unless you are using supplemental lighting which would bring on new growth. Even then use a balanced liquid fertilizer at half strength every two weeks. If you decide to use supplemental lighting consider ones that offer a balance of red and blue wavelengths, which are important for photosynthesis.
In the summer, unless it is a cactus or succulent, plants don’t want to be too close to a window. But in winter get them as close to a south or west facing window as you can. I have a house full of windows that face the south/west direction but because of furniture layout, I can’t get close to any of them. The plants have to rely on just the “light” they can get. For the most part they do fine but I truly hold back on the water. This is where that supplemental lighting comes in handy.
Start the process now by checking for insects, treat them before you bring them and maybe give them a good shower with the garden hose to knock dust, dirt, pests and any garden visitors, like spiders, which may have taken up residence on the pot. Once indoors try to keep the humidity high – at least around the plants – give them good lighting and watch for pests. The plants may not like that hot and dry room but the pests sure do. Oh, and don’t forget about that watering issue – too much is not a good thing. There is wonderful “booklet” from Ortho about houseplants called – ta da – “All About Houseplants” (not original but easy to remember). Lowe’s may even carry it. Happy gardening and give a hug-get a hug.
“There is always music amongst the trees in the Garden, but our hearts must be very quiet to hear it.”