The Plant Professionals: I am bringing my plants in from outside. Is there anything I should be doing?

By Kathy Valentine

As   summer fades and fall approaches, many an indoor plant collector begins thinking about the process of acclimating plants back into the lower light of indoors. All those lovely bright green specimens that have been out on the deck or under the pergola must come indoors before the temperatures swoop down into the frost zone. A little preparation will make the transition successful. 
Always inspect carefully for insects. Look for cottony masses in the spaces where leaves join stems. Mealy bugs can be carefully removed with a cotton swab and alcohol or a few squirts of Sparkle. Don’t use any other spray glass cleaner -ammonia is toxic for plants. Spider mites make webs between leaves, leave eggs on leaf backs that look like tiny grains of sand, and the adults do look like a tiny spiders-visible with a magnifier. Wipe off all webbing and fill a clean spray bottle with a teaspoon of ivory soap in two cups warm water. 
Soak down all surfaces and repeat weekly till insects are gone. Scale insects can be hard or soft shelled, but they also sometimes come inside with your plants in the fall. often you will notice sticky sap on lower leaves or a surface below the infested plant. If possible, prune out affected stems or leaves. Wash off adults with a wet paper towel and then spray with your soap mixture or Sparkle. Repeat in 7-10 days. 
Be sure you examine and wipe down the planters and saucers and leave all insects outdoors. If possible, spoon off the top inch of loose soil and gently pack in new sterilized potting soil to reduce the chances of bringing in fungus gnats, those irritating flying insects that thrive in moist potting soils. Isolate plants that have been outside away from your year- round inside greenery until you are certain they bear no freeloaders. Save fertilization for March, when days begin to lengthen again. 
You may notice the plants have grown while outdoors. Sometimes pruning of pothos, ficus, scheffleras or dracaenas is needed to help them fit the space available for them inside. There are some great plant pruning videos available on YouTube, and it is often best for a new gardener or inexperienced pruner to do one plant at a time and just a few cuts at that first attempt. Always use alcohol to clean the blades of your hand pruners before and between plants, so as to minimize the chance of disease induction. 
If you are an experienced indoor gardener, you already know that plants do best when their location is selected based on light levels. Try to return each plant to the location where it was thriving before it went outdoors in late spring. Be sure you know the name of each plant species, so you can look up care and troubleshooting help online, or ask a friend in a plant chat for advice. Just a little extra care will help your little green friends do well this fall. 
Kathy Valentine enjoys gardening and her family at her Watertown Township home. Her Michigan State University Horticulture degree was a beginning for a life of learning about and working with plants. Kathy is senior partner at The Plant Professionals located at 16886 Turner St, Lansing, MI 48906.  It is an interior and exterior  landscape design , installation and service firm  also offering green walls and plants and flowers for events. She may be reached at