My brother and I were sitting in the living room talking when he interrupted me with a cryptic "I'm being watched."
Sure enough, one of my cats was peering at him from behind leaves in a large potted garden planter I had just moved inside for winter.
Feline undercover operations notwithstanding, there's nothing mysterious about how to bring outside potted plants inside for winter.
If you don't already know what house windows face in what direction, make a list so you will know what plants to place next to what window.
I didn't do that my first year and ended up moving plants several times during winter to try to get them the right light. That was also the year I discovered plant casters, which made the moving a lot easier. They usually run around $5 each at the end of the season.
If you don't have big windows, you can still preserve some of your favorite plant stock for next year by moving them into hanging pots.
Last year, I tried several day neutral strawberries in a hanging pot in my dining room and enjoyed fresh, homegrown strawberries in my oatmeal off and on most of winter. You can also store geraniums, dahlias, elephant ears and gladiolus in brown bags in a cool dark place. I tend to keep geraniums potted because they bloom inside most of winter.
Once you know what kind of light you have inside, match up the potted plant with your available light conditions. That match should also tell you how much space you will have for the plant, and how much trimming you need to do before you bring the plant inside.
Although it's tempting to bring those big, luscious blooming pots inside, at some point the plants will start dropping leaves and blooms because of the change in growing conditions. Since my goal is to help plants make it through winter, I tend to cut off flowers that sap energy and let the plants focus on growing strong roots.
I also give the underside of potted plant leaves a good shower of dishwashing liquid in a spray bottle.
A few drops per bottle works quite well as a pesticide for aphids, mealy bugs, mites, soft scales, thrips and white flies. After leaving the soap on for a couple of days, a gentle shower with the hose cleans them up for their move inside.
Do remember to shake them gently before bringing them in. Although I try to do a thorough search of the underbrush, inevitably somebody hitchhikes in. Last year, it was a frog that kept my cats awake for several nights until I found him hopping - quite unharmed - across my kitchen floor.
I also give my trimmed plants a good long drink of water with a little plant food, just enough to help them make the transition. That makes the pots heavier for the move but over the years my plants have done better with that long soaking before I bring them into dry heat.
Page 2 of 2 - Once settled inside, I will continue to give them very diluted plant food in water through winter, about one-fourth of the recommended dosage once a month. I also periodically mist them with water from a spray bottle, and try to give them rain water when I can collect it.
Rain water includes nutrients that are not available from local tap water and helps feed soil microorganisms, which keep plants happy.
Besides potted flowers, I bring in potted tomatoes, peppers, catnip, herbs and several compact lemon and lime trees that usually fragrantly bloom inside mid-January.
There's nothing quite like being curled up on the couch surrounded by fragrant plants and having to move leaves, and maybe a cat, aside to watch it snow.
Charlotte Ekker Wiggins is a certified gardener sharing gardening tips in a changing climate. Copyright 2013 used with permission by Rolla Daily News - St. James Leader Journal - Waynesville Daily Guide. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Contact Charlotte at firstname.lastname@example.org.