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How to Debug Houseplants to Bring Indoors

This guide shares how to debug plants to bring indoors for the winter.

Learn how to debug houseplants to bring indoors for the winter

I always dread The Great Plant Debugging every fall. I love to bring many of my houseplants outdoors for the spring and summer, that also means more work before bringing them back indoors in the fall. Some people just bring their plants back indoors, and that’s fine.

But not me. I grow a lot in the garden, and plants like lettuce attract aphids. That’s just one example. There are so many things that can move into your plants outdoors, so I like to treat them for bugs before bringing them indoors.

For me it’s just not worth the risk of bringing something indoors that can spread throughout my entire collection. And while the debugging process can be time-consuming, it isn’t hard.

Small Townhouse Patio

Overview of debugging plants to bring inside

  • Debugging plants to bring indoors helps to prevent insects from spreading to your other plants and also helps to clean the foliage off.
  • Fill a bucket with water and mild soap (I use Sal Suds); either submerge plants or pour the mixture over plants and foliage.
  • Soak the soil and let all of the excess water drain out of the pot’s drainage holes.
  • Wipe the foliage down with a microfiber cloth.
  • Use a neem oil or insecticide spray to spray down the tops and bottoms of foliage; let plant dry.
  • Allow the sprayed plants to dry completely and bring them indoors to adjust to their new environment.

What are the benefits of cleaning your plants?

I don’t mean to suggest that all outdoor plants are infested with bugs. They are not. But the chances of them picking up a few friendly visitors are much higher outdoors, and it’s best not to bring them indoors.

In addition to removing bugs and other unwanted pests from your plants, debugging them with a good soak really cleans them up. I don’t know about you, but I tend to let my houseplants outdoors get a bit messy with falling leaves and whatnot.

large yucca plant in a backyard

Supplies I use…

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Step 1: Fill a soapy bucket

Fill a bucket with water and soap. I don’t measure mine—I just squirt enough in to get some good suds going. I love the Sal Suds for that reason—the cleaner is concentrated and foams up really nicely.

Also make sure you do this when your plant is due for watering. Once you bring in your plants, you’ll know that everything has been watered, and you can let them adjust to their new climate indoors.

bottle of sal suds
filling a bucket with soapy water

Step 2: Submerge or rinse your plants

If you have a smaller plant, you can submerge it in the bucket to soak the soil and rinse the foliage off. Or you can use the bucket to pour the soapy mixture over the plant, soaking the soil. You can also use the pouring method for larger plants.

After soaking and pouring, you can use a microfiber cloth to wipe down the foliage. On plants with larger leaves, make sure to wipe down the tops and bottoms of the leaves.

succulent plant
submerging the succulent in soapy water
debugging a plant outside with soapy water and neem oil
debugging a plant outside with soapy water and neem oil

Step 3: Fully drain out any excess water

Now it’s time to fully drain out the excess water. You don’t want the plant to retain too much water in soaked soil, so you want everything to drain out just as you would when watering your plant. If you don’t have drainage holes, consider repotting the plants into something with drainage holes.

debugging a cactus outside with soapy water

Step 4: Spray the plant down

Next I spray down the plants with some sort of insecticide spray. I use either Neem Oil or Captain Jack’s Dead Bug Brew. If you can stomach the smell of Neem, it also gives the plants a nice sheen on the leaves 🙂

When spraying, try to really get into the nooks, crannies, and undersides. I’m really not afraid to go overboard—I soak my plants. Then I just let that dry while working on other plants.

After it dries to the point that it isn’t dripping everywhere and making a mess, I bring the plants inside and let them adjust to their new environment. And that’s it! Monitor them for any issues you might have missed and treat with additional insecticide spray accordingly.

bottle of neem oil
captain jacks dead bug brew
spraying down a plant to bring indoors

In conclusion…

I hope you’ve found these tips and stories helpful! I love bringing many of my plants outside for the spring and summer, so the debugging process at the end of the season is absolutely worth it to me. Feel free to share your own experiences with bringing plants indoors below…happy planting!

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  1. Kristin Schmidt says:

    Thank though so much for all your plant advice and tips!! I’ve learned so much from you and I’m happy to say my plants are looking so much better.

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