Include soil when converting garden plants into houseplants?

West Newton, MA

When you dig up plants from the garden and put them into pots to take indoors for the winter, should you take some of their garden soil with it?

Yesterday I dug up several coleus and hibiscus plants and put them into pots to start their new life as houseplants. I started out with a good amount of potting soil in my pots, but when I lifted the plants out of the ground I also made sure to take a good amount of the garden soil that they've been rooted in. So now in the pot there's a mixture of garden soil and potting soil. I figured it would shock the plants to lose everything they've been rooted in for 6 months.

But I'm wondering now if that was wrong to take some of the garden soil; maybe the plants should be in 100% potting soil (which I know is sterilized)?

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

I personally don't worry about soil sterility, in this case. To me it's obvious that plants grow well in non sterile conditions the world over.
You may have a problem with drainage/compaction. The two different soils may not transfer water the same way. And garden soil probably doesn't have the best structure for potting.

But others will be better sources on this. I would take cuttings of the coleus instead, and I would let the hibiscus go dormant.

Let's see what the pros say...

West Newton, MA

Thanks, SallyG. So when you dig up a garden plant for potting indoors, you don't take any of the soil that the root is bound up with? You shake it as free as you can from the garden soil?

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Being honest, I can't remember a specific plant, what I did and how it liked it. Plants that I bring in for winter have been in pots all summer too. Sorry I can't be more helpful!.
Don't disturb the plants now, let them try out their new place. Your own soil is another variable, so I should not imply that they necessarily are going to suffer.
I'm hoping tapla tells us what he thinks, or some other more experienced potted plants people here.

Bay City, MI(Zone 6a)

It's a catch 22 situation. Soil from the garden will hold too much water and too little air in a container, and mixing 2 different types of soils in a pot is a good example of a bad idea. On the other hand, the stress of removing the soil from the root system of and the change in light and humidity might be enough to do the plant in - so there is no good answer.

Ideally, you would have taken cuttings of the plants you wish to carry over and started them in a medium appropriate for containers, which in my mind is one that you can water to beyond saturation at will w/o concern the limitations associated soggy soils will exact their toll.


West Newton, MA

Weeks later ... Thanks for the help with this. The one hibiscus plant and six coleus plants have been living as houseplants in mixed garden/potting soil for about four weeks now. They seem to be ok so far, except for maybe a bit of leaf curlIng with the coleus. I guess this is one more garden experiment I'm unwittingly undertaking.

Al, if I do want to take garden plants physically in to the house, maybe digging them up earlier in the season and shaking the roots free of the garden soil might have worked better?

Bay City, MI(Zone 6a)

If you're intent on bringing plants growing in the earth inside, I'd cut them back quite hard while they're in the ground, and wait a day or two to lift them. I'd work most of the soil off the roots by dunking them in a tub and using a homemade root pic to pretty much bare-root them. Then I'd pot in a fast-draining, well-aerated potting soil and put them in the shade out of wind until they recover. Your potting soil should be one you can water to beyond saturation (so you're flushing the soil as you water) w/o worry the soil will stay soggy so long it limits root function or wrecks root health.

Also, on your cuttings: once a new break (branch) has started growing in a leaf axil, the large leaf that provided the axillary bud should be removed to limit water loss. In the picture below, you can see all the new axillary shoots in leaf axils (crotches) that formed after I cut this Ficus back hard. If I was starting that branch as a cutting, I would remove all the large leaves that had axillary shoots as a way to slow water loss from the cutting.

You can also do that on a continuing basis after the plants are reestablished as an energy-management tool, if you need/want it. It reduces the amount of food the plant makes, which limits internode length and leaf size so you get fuller, more compact growth.


Thumbnail by tapla
Ottawa, KS(Zone 5b)

Hello everyone,

My experience bringing zinnias indoors indicates several possible problems. Outdoor pests usually have natural enemies that keep them in check. For some reason, those natural enemies don't come in, or if they do, they are somehow ineffective.

For example, years ago I had some scabious zinnias that I had cross pollinated with cactus flowered zinnias, but we were living in Maine at the time, and the growing season wasn't long enough for those seeds to mature. So I dug up a few selected zinnias that had the hybrid seeds growing and potted them in big pots (in the garden soil that surrounded their roots) and put them inside under good fluorescent lights.

Those zinnias came in with a few aphids hidden in the petals, and those aphids started an immediate population explosion in the warmer indoor climate. There were also (accidentally) a few lady bug adults and larva on those zinnias, and with an essentially unlimited food supply of aphids in all stages of growth, their population also quickly exploded.

My zinnias were literally crawling with adult lady bugs and those fierce looking lady bug larva in all stages of growth, including some very tiny ones that looked like they might lose a fight with a baby aphid. So I rejoiced that the lady bugs would "save the day".

But it didn't work out that way. The aphid population explosion outpaced the ladybug population explosion. It turns out that female aphids can give live birth to baby female aphids that are already pregnant. The ladybugs, using "old fashioned" reproductive methods, couldn't keep pace. Try as they might.

So I got out my keyboard vacuum cleaner that I had for cleaning my computer keyboard. With its small nozzle I could suck up aphid colonies without getting too many of the ladybugs. I did that every evening for a couple of hours a day. That tipped the battle in favor of the ladybugs long enough to mature my zinnia seeds. I harvested the seeds and moved the battle-worn zinnias into the garage to let the ladybugs hibernate for release in the garden next Spring.

My hard-fought hybrid zinnia seeds produced some great results that amazed me and hooked me on the zinnia hobby. I grow zinnias indoors now, as well as outdoors. But my indoor zinnias are started from seed indoors in sterile media. And I don't depend on ladybugs to control indoor insects. I use systemic insecticides.


Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

Hi Al, I have a variegated split leaf Monster that was growing kind of ugly. It wasn't very big so I cut the top out of it and hoped to make 2 nice plants. I put the top in soil, pinned down with staples and after several months it got bumped or moved or something and there was not a root on it. So, I put it in a couple inches of water. Now it seems to be rotting The plant that was left grew a new top and is becoming a nice plant. What do I do about the one that is not doing so well?? Thanks, Jen

Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

Sorry, maybe that post should have been in another forum/thread. You don't need to answer it. Jen

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