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How to Debug Houseplants to Bring Indoors for the Winter

This post shares all about how to debug plants to bring indoors for the winter. After your plants have enjoyed their summer holiday, make sure you rid them of any pests they might have picked up by following these few simple steps.

How to Debug Plants to Bring Indoors for the Winter

I have been dreading The Great Plant Debugging of 2019 since getting the garden up and running. (Yes, I know I need to live more in the moment.) Debugging plants isn’t hard, but it can be time-consuming and messy. Especially when you have as many plants as we do!

I am planning to bring in some of our outdoor plants that we bought specifically for our backyard. Like the large yucca cane that we’ve had for a few years…he lives in the basement over the winter. I’m also planning to try to keep my potted rosemary alive over the winter (we’ll see how that goes).

However, I also have quite a few small- to medium-sized plants that I brought outdoors for the summer. The extra sun and humidity does wonders for many plants.

My german ivy started plant, which was struggling along indoors over the winter with like 2 or 3 leaves, absolutely exploded with beautiful lush growth outdoors on the patio. And of course the succulents and elephant ears all did enjoyed the little vacation outdoors as well.

Small Townhouse Patio
german ivy in a pot
small townhouse patio

What are the benefits of cleaning your plants?

But with temperatures are dropping into the 40s here at night now, it’s time to bring many of these bad boys inside. And that means we need to talk about how to debug plants to bring indoors for the winter.

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. Debugging plants to bring them inside is also an easy process—so better safe than sorry, I say.

In addition to remove 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 get a bit messy with falling leaves and whatnot. It also gives you a chance to repot them with fresh, nutrient-rich soil if they need a bit of a boost.

When should I bring plants indoors for the winter?

When you should bring plants indoors for the winter depends entirely on the climate you live in and the type of plant you’re caring for. We live in zone 7 (find your zone here), so my very unscientific and lazy way of bringing plants indoors is to do it gradually when I have time in early to mid October. 🙂 

I had a bunch to debug and bring indoors for the winter, so I started the process in late September and just worked on it when I could. We had some very hot and humid days in late September, so it was hard to bring the plants indoors. But I know that Maryland weather is so unpredictable, and the temperatures can turn on a dime. Best not to tempt mother nature in a four-season state. 

If you notice your plants looking droopy, dull, or a bit sad, it’s probably past the time to take them in. They should rebound once you take them indoors and they get comfy in an indoor hibernation spot for the winter.

Above all else, everything needs to be in before your first frost date (look yours up here). Since general frost dates can be predictable, I’d give yourself some buffer room in there, too. Don’t push it—frost can destroy many houseplants.

hanging plants in a small townhouse backyard
large yucca plant in a backyard

Supplies for debugging plants to bring indoors for the winter

Debugging Smaller Plants to Bring Inside

I’m going to chat about debugging smaller potted plants to bring indoors first. I had a bunch of these and did them mostly the same way.

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 foamed up really nicely. It makes me think it’s debugging the plants extra well. Although that’s probably just in my head. (It’s also the same stuff I used to clean our outdoor rug.)

When I was working on debugging a couple of smaller plants one evening after it had gotten dark, I used our sink instead of a bucket. I filled the sink with soapy water, brought the plants in, and set them immediately into the sink to soak. 

Note: You don’t have to replace the soapy water solution for each plant you soak. However, I’d recommend starting with a fresh tub of soapy water if yours is beginning to look nasty.

bottle of sal suds
filling a bucket with soapy water
succulent plant

Step 2: Soak and spray (if necessary)

Soak for about 15 minutes. Enough to kill off any unwanted visitors. If you still have foliage above water, make sure to turn it and ensure the soapy water has a chance to soak every part of the plant. If you can’t submerge the entire plant, grab your neem oil and give all of the foliage a thorough spray down. Don’t do this inside.

If your plant doesn’t have a drainage hole, you can still use this method. But it’s best to do it on plants with drainage holes (which most outdoor planters have anyways). If your pot doesn’t have a drainage hole, you’ll want to remove the plant and soil from the pot after soaking it so it can air out.

submerging the succulent in soapy water
submerging the succulent in soapy water
sink with suds
submerging the succulent in soapy water

Step 3: Scoop and tidy

While the plant is soaking, scoop out things that float to the surface. Bark, sticks, soil clumps, dead foliage, whatever. Keep the water as debris-free as possible so you can reuse it on the next plant.

Step 4: Remove, rinse, repot (if necessary), and dry

Once your plant is done soaking, remove it and rinse off all of the soap residue you can. I like to run a few rounds of fresh water through the plant (like I’m watering it) to flush everything out the drainage hole.

Now it’s time for the plant to dry and fully drain out the excess water. You can take the plant out of the pot and lay it on its side if you want—especially if you’re planning to repot it in fresh soil or a larger pot. I did that for quite a few of mine. Otherwise, just let the water drain completely, let the plant dry out a bit, and bring inside.

I let most of mine dry in the backyard on a thick black contractor trash bag, but these pictures are from a few plants I was working on at night after R had gone to bed. So they are on the counter on a kitchen trash bag. 🙂

drying succulents
succulent plant
drying succulents
debugging a cactus outside with soapy water
debugging a plant outside with soapy water

Want more plant care tips? You’ll also love my guides on how to take care of snake plantshow to take care of pothos plantshow to take care of rubber plants,how to care for elephant ear varieties, and how to care for philodendron.

How to Debug Large Plants to Bring Indoors

The steps above probably answer most of your questions about how to debug plants to bring indoors for the winter…unless they are really big! I have a stunning Ficus lyrata (fiddle-leaf fig) that has just exploded this summer. It is so beautiful. Between this plant and my stunningly large yucca cane, I need a debugging solution other than soaking. So here’s what I do.

Step 1: Spray neem oil

First I spray down all visible areas of the plant with a neem oil spray. Try to really get into the nooks, crannies, and undersides. I’m really not afraid to go overboard—I soaked my plants. Then let that sit for about 15 minutes while you work on soaking some of your smaller plants.

bottle of neem oil
debugging a plant outside with soapy water and neem oil
debugging a plant outside with soapy water and neem oil

Step 2: Flush out soil

Squirt a bit of your mild soak around the top of the soil and begin watering the plant with your hose. This will mix the soap in with the water. Make sure the soil gets completely soaked. I did two rounds of this. 

Then fill a bucket with soapy water and dump it on the plant from above a few times. This will rinse off the neem oil (down into the soil) and also give the foliage a proper rinse with water. 

debugging a plant outside with soapy water and neem oil
debugging a plant outside with soapy water and neem oil

Step 3: Rinse and let drain

After I’d assaulted my plants with soap water, I used the hose on its shower setting to give the plants a good thorough soaking of plain old water. Then I set them out in a sunny spot to fully drain and dry out the foliage. 

A few hours later, I took the plants inside and put them in their desire spots. Don’t forget to add a drainage saucer if necessary. I like the cheap plastic ones from the home improvement store because they (mostly) blend in.

debugging a plant outside with soapy water and neem oil

I think I’m going to build a little stand for this plant. I love it in this space, and I think there’s enough light to keep it happy here. But It needs just a bit of a boost to feel less crowded, I think.

large fiddle leaf fig plant
large fiddle leaf fig plant
large fiddle leaf fig plant

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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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