Preparing Container Plants for Moving Indoors

Home Grown  by Keith Reed
It will soon be time to move tender plants indoors for the winter. The first step for those plants growing in full sun is to relocate them to a partially shaded location so they can begin adapting to lower indoor light. The other important factor right now is to rid your plants of any pests that could become a problem if moved indoors.

Spider mites and mealy bugs are two very difficult insects to control. Heavy mealy bug activity is easy to spot because of the presence of a white, cottony mass, oftentimes found on the underside of leaves or in the Y between leaf and stem. This cottony mass is what makes control difficult as it protects the insects and their eggs from insecticides. Carefully disrupt this mass (while smashing as many of the pests as possible) and then treat the plant thoroughly with an insecticide labeled for control of mealy bug. Complete coverage is very important, paying close attention to the undersides of the leaves. Follow label directions closely, giving special attention to the suggested retreatment interval.

Unfortunately, even the most well executed insecticide application plans are only moderately successful for this pest. If a plant has more than just a few mealy bugs, you should give some consideration to disposing of the plant, especially if you have other valuable houseplants. If mealy bugs gain a foothold on your indoor plants, you will have a real battle on your hands. At the very least, try to quarantine affected plants for a few months to make sure you have successfully eradicated this pest.

Spider mites are also a problem, partly because they are very difficult to see with the naked eye. Most gardeners realize they are present only when the webbing becomes visible. By this time, the mite population is well established and control becomes more difficult. Much as the mealy bug has protective measures in place, the spider mite protects itself with very fine webbing. Before bringing plants indoors, check for spider mite presence by patting a few leaves sharply on a piece of plain white paper. Live mites will fall off and appear as very small specks. If you look closely, you can see them crawling around on the paper.

Begin by pruning off any plant parts that have webbing or a large population of mites. The next step is to use a water hose and spray off the leaves with a good blast of water. Lastly, follow up with an insecticide labeled for this pest. Please note that each of these pests is difficult to treat and all common insecticides will not be labeled for control of both. Please follow the same protocol as instructed for mealy bugs until you are certain control has been achieved.

Pruning heavily also has the added benefit of making the plant easier to handle. A properly pruned plant will be healthier than one that has been broken apart by a move. Remember too that growth generally slows indoors so as much leaf material is not needed to sustain growth.

It’s also a good idea to check for any insects (such as ants) that may be living in the soil mix and treat accordingly.

For more information on this or any other horticultural topic, you can contact Keith Reed, the Horticulturist in the Payne County Extension office. Keith can be reached via email at
keith.reed@okstate.edu, phone at 405-747-8320, or in person at the Payne County Extension office, located at 315 W. 6th in Stillwater.

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