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 Uninvited "House Guests"

- Don't let them in in the first place! -

Summary: A number of critters can find their way into our homes by hitching a ride on houseplants that are moved indoors in the fall. Check plants carefully and clean the leaves before the move and you'll stop this freeloading!

Jack DeAngelis, PhD
OSU Ext. Entomologist (ret.)

Every fall many gardeners move their potted houseplants back indoors from the deck or other outdoor locations to protect them from winter weather. For example you may have a potted jade plant that does fine on the deck from April to September but would die if exposed to even moderately cold fall weather. In fact, potted houseplants often do better if given this yearly exposure to outside sun and air.

Be aware, however, that you may introduce some uninvited house guests indoors by this practice. Slugs, root weevils and spiders are notorious for hitching a ride on these plants. As the plants warm up the critters become active and will often move off the plants. These house guests pose no threat whatsoever unless, of course, the spiders happen to be one of the very few poisonous species in your area (see Identify Venomous Spiders). So, if you find slugs or root weevils wandering across the floor this winter they probably came off that potted plant you moved indoors.

grey garden slug
The grey garden slug may be carried into homes on houseplants.

One solution is to give the plants a "bath" before moving them indoors. First, hose the plants off with water then spray the leaves and stems with insecticidal soap (see Using Insecticidal Soap in Gardens), wait 30 minutes then rinse with water. Allow the plants to dry completely. This procedure will also remove any dirt, aphids and spider mites that you don't want to take indoors. Finally, tip the plants out of their pots and check for slugs hiding around the pot's drain holes.

Small greenhouses are an ideal solution for protecting non-hardy plants during winter. Even if the greenhouse is unheated the enclosure will protect many plants from the harsher winter extremes. This, of course, depends on the climate, and plants involved, and will require some experimentation.

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Jack DeAngelis, Ph.D.

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