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Lowenfels: Bring houseplants back indoors as temperatures drop

Jeff Lowenfels
Anchorage Daily News archive

More and more I realize the impact of email and the internet on writing a garden column. I have been inundated with questions this summer sent via from As is my habit, I pass on the ones that have general application.

Let's start this week with bringing houseplants summered outdoors, indoors. Lots of folks take houseplants outdoors to summer. Sometimes it is easier to care for them with the outdoor plants. Others just like the idea of giving the plants a vacation from the indoors.

Whatever the reason, you really shouldn't let most houseplants sit too long in temperatures below 45 degrees. That means you need to be paying attention to the temperature during the next couple of weeks and act accordingly. Or you can just bring them indoors now.

The big problem when bringing a plant indoors is the presence of hitchhikers -- insects, slugs and snails that can invade your entire collection during the winter months. First, inspect the plants and remove anything you see that shouldn't be there.

Next, put the potted plant in a sink filled with lukewarm water for 20 minutes. This will irritate the critters in the soil and cause them to come to the surface. You can then remove and discard them.

While on the subject of indoor plants, there are several outdoor plants that make great indoor fare. You can either pot them up or you can take cuttings this week and start new plants indoors. Coleus, impatiens, pelargoniums, tomatoes, fibrous begonias and any plants with a square shaped stem with leaves opposite each other. You can dip them in rooting hormone (available from indoor growing stores and some nurseries) and pluck them into pre-made holes (use a pencil) in a soil mixed with liberal amounts of humus, sand or perlite.

Some of you have potatoes in flower and want to know if you can harvest them. You can take a few of the new potatoes, but it is best to wait until the plant starts to die from the cold. This causes the sugars in the leaves that have been converted to starch to move down the plant into the tubers making a much better spud. Whatever you do, don't leave newly dug potatoes in the light. They will turn green and won't taste very good nor keep very long. The green indicates the presence of solanine, a poisonous compound slightly toxic to humans. Eat too many of these and you can get sick. Peel back the skin and the green areas.

When is the best time to plant raspberries? Springtime. You can try now, but you will much greater success in the spring. At that time, dig up existing plants and divide or buy some new ones. If you must move or plant new bushes now, do it this week. Include as much of the existing roots as possible.

The canes that produced fruit this year will die this winter. You can cut these back to the ground next spring when they will be readily identifiable because of the left over 'caps' from picked fruit and the gray brown bark on them. The new canes that will produce next year will be green. Prune these next spring along with thinning your plants to encourage air circulation.

In short, all you should do with your plants now and into this fall is make sure they get some good mulch when the leaves fall from the birch trees.

Finally, what is the best way to preserve harvested vegetables? While it depends on the harvest, most vegetables Alaskans grow do well frozen. However, in almost all cases they should be "scalded" or blanched. Each requires a precise time in the hot water or steam. The research on how long for each type of vegetable has been done. Check and look up the vegetables you intend to freeze.

Jeff Lowenfels' bestselling books are available at and


Garden calendar

2013 Plastic Garden Pot Recycling Opportunity: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Alaska Botanical Garden. All plastic gardening containers will be accepted but you must follow these directions. 

1. Sort into two groups, No. 2 HDPE plastic pots in one and the rest in the other. (There are many pots and trays without numbers. Please bring them too.) 

2. Shake out loose soil or rinse.

3. Remove metal hangers.

4. Stack like-sized pots to save space.

5. Only bring pots during the event. No pre- or post-dropoffs.

6. Greenhouses, sellers and landscapers should drop off at the recycling center August 19-23. Call 562-2267 for instructions.

Mushroom Walk: 5:30 p.m. August 29 at the Alaska Botanical Garden. Registration required. Call 770-3692

Attention All Lawn Mowers: A writer for the John Deere Magazine is coming up over Labor day weekend to check us out. I urge you all to mow your lawns in patterns (diagonal to the house counts, along with circles, spades, ovals, overlaps and herringbones). If you are particularly proud of yours, send me an email (and picture if possible) at



Jeff Lowenfels