Gardening with Deb: Bring outdoor plants indoors before frost

Deb Babcock/For Steamboat Today
Deb Babcock
Courtesy Photo

With autumn upon us, it’s time to bring indoors some of your more tender garden plants before the frost kills them off. This includes favorite annuals that bring color to your home during the gray Steamboat winter: geraniums, begonias, coleus, fuchsia, impatiens, etc.

Bringing outdoor plants inside takes more care than simply digging up the plant, plunking it into a pot and bringing it indoors or carrying an outdoor pot inside. You’ll want to make sure you’re not bringing in pests that will infect your other houseplants, and you’ll want to make sure the outdoor plants transition as gently as possible to the change in light and temperature conditions.

For plants you need to dig up and place in a pot, clear away as much of the garden soil as possible and plant them in fresh potting soil. Garden soil tends to be too dense in an indoor pot and may harbor all kinds of pests.

If you’ve been fertilizing the potted outdoor plants all summer, you will want to flush out some of the salt build-up by thoroughly soaking the potted plant and letting the fresh water pour through the soil and out the bottom of the planter. This might be an ideal time to freshen the soil in the pot as well by completely replacing the old soil with new potting soil or by adding a fresh top layer, first checking that there are no insects taking refuge in the top few inches of soil.

The move indoors will be quite a change for your plants, and you can help them weather the transition by first moving them to a shady location, where they can get used to lower light levels and cooler temperatures. Or you can bring them in at night and take them back out during the day for a few weeks, gradually increasing the indoor time.

Once the plants are indoors full-time, give them the sunniest possible location for a few weeks before moving them to their permanent indoor location. This should help with the leaf-drop that usually occurs when plants experience such a sudden change.

In case you missed any insects in the soil, separate your outdoor garden plants from other indoor plants for a month or so to prevent possible infestations from spreading. If you notice insects in the pot and around the plants, you can use an insecticidal soap spray to help eliminate the pests.

Most of us have a tendency to overwater our indoor plants, which also creates ideal conditions for insect infestations and fungus problems. Resist watering until the soil is dry. (I use a soil moisture probe, but a finger poked into the soil works, too.) You also can cut back on fertilizer during the shorter days of winter.

Deb Babcock is a Master Gardener through the CSU Extension Routt County. Questions? For more information or questions, call 970-879-0825 or email

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