We've already had the first frost in London and there's more sub-zero nights on the way, according to the weather forecast. Time to bring in the rest of the plants. Most of my spice plants – cardamom, turmeric, ginger and pandan - are already safely indoors, but the chillies and citrus were still out until the weekend.
Before the plants come in, however, they will need to be cleaned up. With chillies especially, you'll often find an infestation of aphids takes hold about three weeks or so after bringing them in. Aphids are perhaps easier to prevent than cure. On inspection, your citrus plants too may be harbouring pests that need to be removed before relocating indoors. Mine tend to be susceptible to scale, which can be rubbed off or scrubbed away with an old toothbrush. Check particularly on the underside of leaves alongside the central vein.
|Left, scale insects lurking on the leaves; right, snail leaves its last trail on this particular plant.
I often find tiny snails hiding in the foliage of both chillies and citrus: dispose of these so they don't get to spend all winter chomping away on your leaves.
So the plants all get a bit of a spruce-up before being allowed to cross the threshold. First I remove any tatty, holey, yellowing leaves, any withered or brown stems, old flowerheads, etc. Any weeds that have seeded in the pots (perish the thought!) are removed.
Cleaning up the smaller plants is easily done by dunking them in soapy water, I'm indebted to citrus specialist Plants4Presents for this tip: it's a lot less fiddly than going over the whole plant with a handheld spray, sponge and toothbrush. Tie a clear plastic bag around the pot and the base of the main stem, fill a sink (or a bath if you have several plants) with soapy water (lukewarm water plus detergent to the same dilution as if you were washing up will do fine), up-end the plant and dunk it, leaves first, into the sink (bath). Count to five and haul it out again. Leave it to drain, right way up, before putting it in its final overwintering place. This should stop any aphids lurking in the leaves in their tracks. If you get any further infestations during the winter, repeat the process.