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Give your houseplants a fresh start

Green plant sitting on a table by a sunny window.
Indoor plants bring nature indoors during our cold winter months.

If you are like me, your houseplants spend the summer outside. By now, you’ve most likely brought them indoors for the winter.

Houseplants that spend the growing season outdoors typically have seeds, leaves and sometimes weeds tucked in and around the branches and stems. Likewise, the pots may be dirty from rain and algae, and the plant may need a shower. It’s also common for insects to hitchhike on plants as well.

Taking the time now to give your houseplants a good check-up and cleaning results in fewer pest issues and healthier, better-looking plants in the long run. 

Repot your plants

If your plant has outgrown its current container, now is a great time to repot and start the winter with a clean plant, clean soil and a clean pot. Take advantage of a nice day to do your repotting outside, minimizing the mess indoors.

When the plant is out of the pot, examine its roots — they should be creamy white and firm — and look under the leaves for insect signs. Choose a slightly larger (2"+) pot and repot with fresh, sterile potting mix. Do not use garden soil or potting mix that’s been sitting outside all summer as both contain pests and weeds you don’t want indoors.

Examine plants for insects

Two white fuzzy insects underneath a yellow, spotted flower.
Mealybugs are a common houseplant pest. There are two on the underside of this orchid.

Insects will hide underneath leaves, at nodes, under flowers — wherever they feel protected.

Spend time going over your plants, specifically looking under the plant parts. A magnifying glass or loop and a small LED flashlight are really helpful tools when it comes to looking for pests.

If you find insects, webbing, egg sacs, etc., pick them off or use a cotton swab to dab them off.

Managing insects on indoor plants can help you identify and treat common pests.

Clean out plant debris that may have accumulated on the soil surface

Insects love to set up residence in plant debris. Cozy up to your plant and handpick the seeds, leaves and dead flowers from under leaves and on the soil surface.

If you have a large plant, consider using the hose on a vacuum equipped with the pointed tool for getting into corners to pick up large amounts of debris.

Consider giving your plant a shower

Large green plant standing in white tiled shower being sprayed with water

Small plants can be placed in a kitchen or utility sink and washed with the spray nozzle. Larger plants can be washed in the shower.

Place a sieve over your drain to prevent soil and plant debris from going down the drain.

Let the plant dry somewhat and make sure it drains before putting it back in its place for the winter.

Wipe off the pot including the bottom and saucers

Insect eggs, nests, webs, algae, etc. can accumulate on containers and saucers. Start the winter off right with clean pots.

Check each plant for damaged parts and trim off

Use a clean pruner (see Cleaning and disinfecting your garden tools and containers).

Check out our Houseplants page for more information on caring for your plants. And see all of our resources on how to grow and care for houseplants.

Author: Julie Weisenhorn, Extension educator, horticulture

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