Assorted Houseplants

How to Debug Plants

August 15, 2022
Adams Fairacre Farms

Many people choose to bring their houseplants outside during the summer to bask in the sunshine and humidity… but, how do you bring plants back indoors without the bugs!?

Summer is a wonderful time for growing plants. Indoor plants really benefit from being outside for a change but, when fall comes and it’s time to bring your houseplants inside for the winter, things can get ugly.

Two things that will help you avoid major problems with your plants later on are knowing when to bring houseplants inside, and also how to bring plants indoors without bugs.

It’s important to take a few steps to ensure the transition is painless for both you and your plants, and avoid bringing bugs and houseplant pests indoors.

When to Bring Plants Inside
One of the most common questions is when should I bring my plants inside for the winter? Plan to start bringing your houseplants back inside several weeks before cooler weather hits in the fall.

If indoor plants are left outside for too long, cold weather could trigger them to drop their leaves. Or worse, it could kill the plant. Plus, the transition of bringing outdoor plants inside will be more of a shock to them if they are left outside too long when the weather starts to cool down in the fall.

A good rule of thumb for when to bring houseplants in for winter is at least two weeks before your average last frost date.

Tips for Bringing Plants in for the Winter
If you have a lot of houseplants growing outdoors, we recommend bringing plants back indoors in small batches.

Trying to do a marathon weekend of debugging and moving plants back inside can be very stressful and exhausting for you (and hard on your back!).

Also, if you discover that a houseplant is pot-bound, repot it into a larger container before moving it inside. That way the mess will stay outside.

Debugging and cleaning potted plants before bringing them back inside is a crucial step to avoid houseplant bug problems.

Aphids, mealybugs and other types of houseplant insect pests aren’t normally a problem when potted indoor plants are outside. But they can quickly turn into a major infestation during the winter if they are brought inside on your houseplants.

How to Debug Plants to Bring Indoors: Step-By-Step
Debugging and cleaning potted plants before bringing plants inside for the winter sounds harder than it really is.

There are a few simple steps you can take to ensure your houseplants are bug-free before bringing them back indoors in the fall. (Caution: Only use this method to debug plants that are growing in pots with drainage holes!)

Supplies Needed:

  • Large utility tub or bucket
  • Mild liquid soap
  • Large kitchen strainer
  • Flower pot scrub brush
  • Spray bottle
  • Neem oil
  • Wash bucket
  • Old towels

Step 1: Fill tub with soapy water – Fill a large tub/bucket with water and add a few squirts of a mild liquid soap. Be sure not to use any soaps that contain degreasers or detergents. Those can damage (or even kill) sensitive plants.

Step 2: Put plants into the water and soak them – To kill any bugs on houseplants, soak the whole plant, pot and all, in the tub of water for about 15-20 minutes. The soapy water will kill any bugs that are on the plant or in the soil.

Step 3: Clean plant leaves that are not submerged – If any of the leaves aren’t completely covered by the water, use an organic insecticidal soap to clean the plant leaves that are sticking out of the water.

Tip: When you put the plants into the water, dead leaves, bugs and other debris will float to the top. So use a strainer to remove all the floating pieces you can before removing your plants to keep them nice and clean.

Step 4: Remove plants and scrub the pots clean – After soaking your plants, pull them out of the tub and scrub each pot with a scrub brush to clean it.

Step 5: Give the plant and pot a good rinse – Once you’re done cleaning your plant and the pot, rinse the whole plant and the pot thoroughly with the hose to get all the soap and dirt off.

Step 6: Allow the water to drain completely – Set the clean plants aside and allow all the water to completely drain from the pots before moving the plants back indoors.

Step 7: Remove all the dead leaves and other debris floating on top of the water before soaking another batch of plants.

Step 8: Bring your plants back inside – Now that your plants have been debugged and all of the excess water has drained out the bottoms of the pots, you can move them back inside.

Once you have them put back into their indoor spot and ready for winter, be sure to allow the soil to dry before watering them again to make sure you’re not over watering them.

Benefits of Soaking Plants to Kill Bugs
Of course the main benefit of soaking houseplants in soapy water before bringing them back indoors is killing all the bugs, but there are a few other benefits too.

This method for debugging and cleaning potted plants is great because now your houseplants will get a good watering before you bring them back indoors! That means you won’t have the added step of watering all of your houseplants once they’re inside.

Another added benefit of soaking plants in water is that all the dead leaves and other debris will float to the top, making it easy to discard.

Your plants and their pots will look sparkling clean too, probably cleaner than they’ve ever been. It feels great to have such clean, healthy looking plants, and it’s good for the plants too!

Debugging Houseplants That are Too Large to Soak
Soaking houseplants in soapy water is great for small to medium sized potted plants, but if you have plants that are too large for this method, here’s a modified version.

Wash the plant leaves and the stem of the entire plant with soapy water (using the same mild liquid soap), and then rinse it off thoroughly using the garden hose.

Once the leaves are clean, spray the whole plant with neem oil. (some houseplants are more sensitive than others, so be sure to test any type of spray on a few leaves before spraying the whole plant).

Information courtesy of