HELEN LANG: Bring your plants inside

Bringing houseplants in early could save them from yellowing, dropping leaves

Oh I wish I had killed that white butterfly when I had the chance, but I didn’t. Now you wouldn’t believe what she has done to my lovely Brussels sprouts. They are probably not worth saving. She must have snuck in when my back was turned and laid a mass of eggs, and not on one plant, but all of them, the wicked thing!

They were such beautiful plants, but no longer. No sprouts this year, not here, anyway. I’ve been out to check for the caterpillars that hatched from her eggs, and ate the leaves but they, too, have vanished (with full stomachs!). Where have they gone?

A garden, even one as small as mine, is full of mysteries, and I suppose that’s one reason gardening is so interesting (and at times so exasperating).

I went out last night to see if the caterpillars were night marauders but there wasn’t a sign of anyone, or anything, just those pathetic torn leaves. I felt around in the soil, thinking they might bury themselves until no one was around, but no luck there either. I’m going to leave what remains of the sprouts to see if long stalks will eventually appear, covered with lovely fat sprouts, of course. Fat chance! I may as well put in some shallot seed, maybe they will survive, although it is kind of late to expect much to grow as the weather cools.

It’s time to decide where you are going to put the plants that spent the summer outdoors. They likely have grown mightily, and now need larger pots – I tell you there is no rest for us gardeners. Plants need to come back inside before the nights get cooler. The temperature inside and out should be close to the same, so that moving them won’t be too much of a shock. They would likely survive even if temperatures are considerably different, but they show their annoyance by turning leaves yellow, and eventually dropping them. It’s easier to just bring them inside soon.

Before bringing in plants examine them for passengers. Smart earwigs and clever snails will have hidden themselves in any spot where they can get inside without being observed, so give plants a thorough once-over. Even insects enjoy a winter holiday in a warm place – Phoenix, anyone?

For those of you growing tomatoes, this is for you: time now to cut off all blossoms. Cher “stresses” her tomatoes by stopping watering, which seems to encourage them to turn red. She also cuts off a lot of foliage to expose the fruit to the sun. I have already suggested that you can pick ones almost ripe and put them in a brown paper bag with a ripe apple, which also ripens them. But Cher objects to this, saying fruit that ripens on the vine is sweeter. This may be a matter of debate, but choose the method that appeals to you, I’m pretty sure both ways work.

Helen Lang has been the Peninsula News Review’s gardening columnist for more than 30 years.