Debugging and Cleaning Potted Plants

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Debugging And Cleaning Potted Plants

Summer is a wonderful time for growing plants. Many people choose to move their houseplants outside during the summer to bask in the sunshine and humidity. But when fall comes and it’s time to bring the houseplants back inside for the winter, it’s important to take a few steps to ensure the transition is painless for both you and your houseplants, and avoid bringing houseplant insect pests indoors.

  • Plan to start bringing your houseplants inside several weeks before cool weather hits in the fall. If houseplants 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 back inside will be more of a shock to them. A good rule of thumb is to move houseplant back inside a few weeks before the heat goes on in the house.

Related Post: Keeping Houseplants Happy During The Winter

Debugging Plants To Overwinter Inside

Debugging Plants To Overwinter Inside

  • If you have a lot of houseplants, plan to move them back inside in small batches. Trying to do a marathon weekend of cleaning and moving plants back inside can be very stressful and exhausting for you (and hard on your back!). Also, if you find 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 houseplant insect pests aren’t normally a problem when houseplants are outside, but can quickly turn into a major infestation during the winter if they are brought inside on your houseplants.

Related Post: Indoor Houseplant Pest Control

Debugging And Cleaning Houseplants

Debugging And Cleaning Houseplants

Easy Steps for Debugging and Cleaning Potted Plants

Debugging and cleaning potted plants before bringing them inside sounds harder than it is. There are a few simple steps you can take to ensure your houseplants are pest free before bringing them back indoors in the fall. (Note: Only use this method for houseplants that are in pots with drainage holes!)

Related Post: Where Do Houseplant Pests Come From?

  1. Fill a tub with water and add a few squirts of a mild liquid soap (I use Dr. Bronner’s Baby Mild).
  2. To kill bugs on the plant soak the whole plant, pot and all, in the tub of water for about 10 minutes. The soapy water will kill any bugs that are on the plant or in the soil.
  3. If the foliage isn’t covered completely by water, use a spray bottle of soapy water to wash the leaves that are sticking out of the water.

    Soak Potted Plants To Kill Bugs

    Soak Potted Plants To Kill Bugs

  4. After soaking, pull the plant out of the tub and scrub the pot with a scrub brush (here’s the one I have Flower Pot Bristle Brush).
  5. Rinse the whole plant and the pot with the hose to get all the soap and dirt off.
  6. Set the plant aside and allow all the water to drain from the pot before bringing the plant back indoors.
Bringing Plants Indoors Without Bugs

Bringing Plants Indoors Without Bugs

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, so you don’t have the added step of watering all of your houseplants once they’re inside. Another added benefit to soaking the plants is that all the dead leaves and other debris will float to the top, making it easy to discard.

Need more? This eBook is filled with detailed information and great tips for controlling indoor garden pests. Now you can keep your houseplants bug free year round!

To Find Out More About The eBook



For more information and tips for how to combat those super annoying indoor garden pests, click here… Houseplant Pests

How do you debug and clean your potted plants before bringing them back indoors in the fall?



  1. Sasha Dreamer says

    Such a timely post! I just brought a few things in last night, since we're finally starting to get a chill on the east coast. This is one of the first years I've had outside plants (used to move around too much) so I'm thrilled to be able to bring them inside.

  2. says

    Nice post! Never knew of debugging and bug fogger! I always just brought my pots in right away. I will be extra careful next year. Perhaps you could post picture of bug fogger in action? Where do you get it and how much does it cost?

  3. says

    @Megan – I didn't measure, I used a squirt. :-) I use soapy water in my spray bottle to fight spider mites and aphids and I use about 1 tsp per quart of water and that works great. I'm guessing the ratio was less in my tub of water though.

    @Sasha – Glad you found the post helpful. Good luck with overwintering your plants!

    @RandomGardener – Thanks! I get the bug

  4. says

    Tara – I've read that soaps that are heavy on detergent can cause damage to some plants. Most of the forums and articles I've read recommend using Ivory soap because it's a mild soap. I have heard of people using different types of soap though.

    I've only had one plant damaged by soapy water spray a few years ago (and I have a lot of plants!) so even Ivory soap can

    • says

      Great question Anne (and I will add more detail about this to the post). The dirt will not float away if the plant is established. But if you try this with a newly repotted plant… yes, some of the dirt will float. So, if you plan to repot a plant before bringing it in, I would recommend soaking it and debugging it first, then repot it.


  5. Cherith says

    Very helpful! Do you think this technique could also work for orchids? I have a small but persistant scale outbreak on a couple of indoor orchids….thank you!!!

  6. Jackie says

    This is an urgent question..when doing the debugging method by submerging the entire plant in a bucket with Dr Bronners soap and water can you repeat this with other plants in the same bucket one after another without changing the water? This not mentioned as I have lots of plants to debug and don’t really want to start over with new water and soap for each plant. What I’m afraid of in using the same water and soap do you risk transferring bugs to the next plant?
    Thanks Jackie

    • says

      Yes, you can use the same water for multiple plants. The soap will kill the bugs, so no worries of them transferring from one plant to others. I use a mesh kitchen strainer to fish the debris out of the water (that floats out of my plants) to keep the water clean between soakings.

  7. Jackie says

    Thank you so much…I have many plant right now with bugs and they are very large 4-5 feet tall. But I also have smaller ones that I used your method with. Is a repeat in a couple of days necessary or a one time should be adequate?
    Thanks Jackie

    • says

      No, you don’t need to repeat it unless you see bugs again. I only do this once per year to my plants, and that’s right before I bring them indoors for the winter.

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