Extension Educator, Horticulture
You know the drill. It's 10:15. You're snuggled in your pajamas with a hot cup of tea. Through your sleepy eyes, you see the outline of Illinois on the TV. You hear phrases such as "frost advisory" and "better cover your plants." Your consciousness arises. You think a moment if you should just let the houseplants die a natural death from the cold. But that thought quickly passes. For you are a plant lover. That means you save plants….. from insect, disease, varmint, dumpster and definitely cold. So on that fall night you dash for a flashlight and any jacket. Fashion sense is optional for the houseplant round up. It's not a pleasant experience for you, your plants and your neighbors.
In addition to houseplants tender plants including vinca, begonia, coleus and impatiens can be brought in for the winter. Ideally plants should be brought in gradually to become accustomed to the lower light levels. Place them in a half way house such as a carport or porch for at least two weeks before bringing them indoors. In central Illinois, we can usually expect first fall frost around October 14 but remember this date can vary widely from year to year and between locations.
Also check plants for insects. A few insect pests can quickly produce high numbers in the near perfect home environment. Outdoors many natural predators such as ladybugs and lacewing larvae keep the pest populations low. Indoors means no predators which means pest party time.
Symptoms of houseplant pests are: yellow or brown leaves; dropping leaves; stunted or distorted growth; and sticky leaves. Sapfeeding insects such as aphids and scale excrete a sweet sticky substance called honeydew.
Some common plant pests include: aphids, scale and spider mites. Aphids are small globular insects; usually green, but may be any color. Aphids travel in herds along stem tips. Some have wings and if you look closely they appear to have two exhaust pipes. For quick getaways I guess. Aphids infest many plant types.
Scale falls into the category of "it doesn't look like a living thing since I can't see any head, legs or eyes." Scale appear as brownish helmets less than 1/8 of an inch long. Favorite scale hangouts include fig trees and ferns.
Spider mites form tiny webs on the backsides of leaves or where the leaves attach to the main branch. If spider mites are suspected, place white paper under the leaves and tap the leaves gently. The spider mites will be visible on the white paper as moving periods.
Insects and other creatures can also take up residency in the soil of potted plants. These include pill bugs and ants. Although soil critters usually don't harm the plants, once the culprits are inside our homes they can become a real nuisance.
Before bringing plants indoors, wash the leaves and stems thoroughly with a steady stream of water. The constant drenching of the soil in the pot will also help to drive out soil critters. Plants can also be repotted with new soil to make sure there are no unwanted guests.
If insect pests are suspected, plants can the treated with insecticidal soap. Insecticidal soaps are specially formulated soaps to be used on plants and have low toxicity. Read and follow all label directions. More than one spraying will be necessary.
To find out what else to do this fall attend the Fall Gardening Calendar program on October 1 at 7 p.m. and repeated October 3 at 1:30 p.m. at U of I Extension Champaign County; 801 North Country Fair Drive in Champaign using the Telenet system. There is no charge but please register by calling (217) 333-7672 to reserve a seat and information packet.