Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Bring your outdoor plants indoors for the winter

Tis the season to bring in those precious plants that have vacationed on your patios and balconies all summer. Granted, this endeavor is always accompanied by a multitude of questions: “Which one(s) are fortunate to make the cut?” “To trim or not to trim?” And my personal favorite, “What freeloaders are lurking within my glorious garden buddies?”

“Which one(s) are fortunate to make the cut?” - The # 1 deciding factor for which plants make the cut to spend the winter in your limited household space should be ease of maintenance: bring in those plants which are conducive to being wintered indoors with little or no issues. Problem plants (mandevilla, passion vine) are just not worth the heartache. Then there are the three other reasons for choosing which plants are spared the harsh reality of the compost heap. You probably want to save those plants that are sentimental, like grandma’s peace lily or the rex begonia you rooted from a friend and/or the plants that you searched high and low for that are rare, like night blooming cyrus, orchids or a coveted citrus plant. Also indoors-worthy are those expensive plants, like topiary rosemary, gardenias, braided hibiscus and bodacious bamboos that you use for screening your neighbors who think garden art is the A/C compressor. These plants and those like them should be welcomed into your home with loving arms.

“To trim or not to trim?” - Most plants enjoy a regular trim. It keeps them full, promotes new growth, eliminates damaged growth and helps maintain the size of the plant. There are those plants that benefit from serious trimmings such as hibiscus, gardenias and oleanders. For the more timid gardener, a light trimming will work too, but not as well. For Geraniums (pelargonium), both scented and large flower varieties, we recommend cutting 50% to 70% back. Sounds drastic, yes, but yields great spring results. Trim to maintain shape for your ivy, herb and Eugenia topiaries. So, periodic trimmings are helpful in keeping these plants happy. However, there are plants with leaves that are generated near the center of the plant or close to the soil such as clivias, gingers and agapanthus that should not be trimmed back because they recover extremely slowly from this.

“What freeloaders are lurking within my glorious garden buddies?” – Finally, what “friends” can you expect on your plants and how do you deal with them? First, we recommend trimming the plant back if it is applicable. This physically removes many insects. Second, we recommend spraying the whole plant while it is lying on its side, so you can get under the leaves, too. Spraying it down with water (outside!) should knock a good portion of its freeloaders off, too. We recommend also spraying the plant down, after it has dried off, with an insecticidal soap or insecticidal oil. Be careful to follow the instructions provided. For instance, soap is usually not good for gardenias and oil does not work well on fuzzy-leafed plants. If you find you have an outbreak of insects, there are certain methods that you can apply while your plant is indoors to deal with them. Personally, I like to seek out the little buggers and squash them with my fingers.

Now that you’re armed with some criteria, go out there and decide which plants will be eliminated from the garden and need to pack up their bags and leave the premises immediately and which are still in the running to become America’s Next Top House-Plant. : )

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