It's coming, that time many gardeners dread, when nights grow cool and frost threatens. It's hard to say goodbye to those huge frilly coleus, the peppers still sprouting dozens of blossoms and tiny fruits, all the herbs that give summer meals an extra burst of flavor. But while nighttime temperatures still hover in the fifties, there's still time to bring in a few plants from the garden and pretend, however briefly, that summer is still with us.

A few general guidelines apply to plant rescue. First, the plant should be healthy and free of pests. This late in the season many favorites are leggy or show signs of insect damage, so select only those that will look good as a houseplant. Geraniums, coleus, impatiens and begonias can make the transition from outside to inside and make a colorful display in a sunny window, sometimes even making it through to spring for replanting outside. If they've become a bit leggy, pinch them back and when you dig them, plan to cut the roots as well, about the same amount as you've trimmed from the top.

To bring in favorite annual flowers, herbs or peppers, you'll need some good potting mix, composed of a third compost and two-thirds seed-starting mix, just as if you were starting your seeds in spring, as well as a selection of pots. This is a time when those large gallon containers you saved from earlier in the season can come in handy, if they're washed and cleaned. Late in the day, or on a day that's cool and cloudy, dig around each plant, remove it from the ground with enough dirt so that no roots are exposed, and slide it into the pot. If you have room for more soil inside the pot, add some of your potting mix. Then water well, at the same time rinsing the plants off with a strong stream of water. Move the pots to a porch or other sheltered spot, wait a day or two, and then inspect the plants well for insect pests. If you find any, spray well with insecticidal soap, rinse well, then repeat a day later.

Some perennials, like lavender or rosemary, look pretty inside but prefer a period of dormancy during the winter. For these, an unheated but sunny porch or garage, where temperatures range around 40 to 50 degrees, is ideal. Cool and sunny is the key to healthy rosemary, but even with these conditions your plants may not make it. The only time I ever had a rosemary not only survive, but flourish throughout the winter, bursting into sky-blue bloom in early spring, was when I had an unheated, airy room with a lot of sunshine available for it. A friend has an unheated sunny porch where her giant rosemary reigns happily all winter before moving just a few feet outside for the summer. If you don't have these conditions, take cuttings from your rosemary and root them up.



As much as I hate to bid farewell to my basil plants, they usually don't make the transition to inside living. So I'll make cuttings of the freshest, healthiest tops and hope they'll root. After potting these up I should have a small acclimated plant to use. But I will bring in a few thymes and an oregano, as they are capable of adapting to the indoor desert of our winter homes. Chives, a big favorite in our summer eggs and salads this year, need special treatment if they are to survive indoors; they need to die back and be tricked into thinking they've gone through the winter. Once they've been dug and potted, cut your chive plant back and let it dry out before setting it in a dark, cool place. A closet will do, but the basement is better. After a couple of weeks, bring the chives back out and place them in a sunny window. Water them a bit and soon you should see fresh green sprouts.

I've never tried bringing a pepper plant inside for the winter, but this year the plants were slow to produce and are so covered with late blossoms that I feel I owe it to them to try. Peppers are semi-tropical perennials, so there's no reason they can't winter over and be planted outside again next spring, when they will be hearty enough to get a jump-start on fruit production. To winter inside, peppers need warmth, sunlight and water. Overwatering is the real enemy here, so don't water until leaves begin to droop. With ideal conditions your plant should yield fruit until around Thanksgiving. After that, find a cool, dry location to store the plant, like the aforementioned garage or basement where your chives hung out for a while. Water the plant once every three to four weeks. The leaves will start to die back as the pepper plant enters dormancy, and at this point you can prune it back to a few main branch junctions, leaving a couple inches to grow new branches in the spring. About a month before the last frost date, bring your pepper plant out to a brighter, warmer location and resume light watering. In a week or so, new growth should appear.