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Backyard Gardener: Bringing plants indoors

By J.J. BARRETT

WVU Extension Service

Hello Mid-Ohio Valley farmers and gardeners. Fall is definitely here as cooler temperatures have set in. What a difference a year makes. Fall of 2019 was hot and dry as we experienced very little rain and unseasonably high temperatures. As you finish harvesting vegetables from the garden consider planting a cover crop. I usually recommend wheat, but you have other small grain options such as cereal rye and barley in addition to clovers, vetches, winter peas and other legumes.

Cover crops build organic matter to feed the soil, as well as limit soil erosion and suppress weeds. If you are planting winter wheat, sow about 4-6 pounds per 1,000 square feet in the garden. If you need to add soil amendments such as compost, aged manure, leaf compost or lime go ahead and apply. Lightly till them into the soil and then broadcast wheat seed.

Now is the time to move houseplants back indoors before they get frosted. Many homeowners move indoor plants onto the deck or front porch to enjoy for the summer. To be safe, you will need to bring your plants indoors before nighttime temperatures dip below 450 F. Keep in mind many of our houseplants are tender tropicals and some will suffer damage even at temperatures below 500 F.

There are some important steps you need to take before bringing plants back inside. First, check plants closely for bugs and disease. Insects like spider mites, scale and aphids can piggyback onto these plants and cause problems over the winter.

Treat plants outdoors if they are infested. Insecticidal soap or neem oil are two good natural products to use on plants before bringing back inside the house. Soaking the pot in a tub of lukewarm water for about 15 minutes will force insects out of the soil.

If sow bugs, pill bugs or other insects burrowed in the soil, you might want to repot your plants. You may also need to repot into larger containers if the roots have become crowded over summer. Scrub the pot, add fresh bagged potting soil and replant (do not use garden soil, it may contain diseases).

Second item on the list is to expose plants gradually to reduced lighting. Houseplants will experience shock and leaf drop if you just bring them indoors and set them in front of the kitchen window in one swoop. Houseplants need time to acclimate to a new growing environment.

However, if they’ve been in outside in bright light and you move them into much lower light, expect some leaves to fall off. Don’t worry, new leaves will form as the plants adjust. To simulate the reduction in indoor lighting simply bring plants in at night and take them out again in the morning for a few days before they settle in permanently for the winter.

The third item is to pay attention to watering. Overwatering houseplants is a common mistake. It can suffocate the roots and allows root fungi to grow. Water only when the plants need it. Test the soil moisture with your finger. If it is dry one-half inch deep, then it’s time to water.

Finally, a few helpful hints. Clean the windows inside and out to make sure that plants will get adequate light this winter. If you can, place houseplants in the sunniest areas of the house. Windows filter out the sunlight needed for plants to grow. Keep plants away from heat vents and out of entryways where drafts can become too dry or too cold. Houseplants need very little fertilizer as their growth slows in winter. Wait till March to give them a boost. Contact me with questions at the WVU Extension Office at 304 424 1960 or at jj.barrett@mail.wvu.edu. Good Luck and Happy Gardening.

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