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Neighborly Garden News
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Indoor Gardening: Tips for Overwintering Outdoor Plants
My second family is a collection of tropical trees I’ve nurtured for many years. My oldest Hibiscus tree was a cutting my Mom took from a tree in my yard, while I was pregnant with my now almost forty-year-old daughter. This collection has grown to include several more Hibiscus trees, an 8ft tall Plumeria, and about 70 more ‘friends’ who I diligently move outdoors in spring, and back inside again each fall. It’s a big chore, but worth it to have these tropical beauties blooming around our patio every summer. All the plants respond with increased vigor to their outdoor vacation. Those that bloom through winter put on a great show, after being exposed to outdoor weather variations, and the change in light intensity.
Plumeria tree almost the same size as mine
Everyone should plan to do some debugging to their plants before bringing them into the home. You don’t want any unwanted pests hibernating in the plant’s soil. Luckily you don’t need harsh chemicals to treat the plant. A mild soap, like Castile soap, will work very well. Make a solution using 3 TBS Castile soap to 1 gallon of water. Please don’t substitute liquid dish soap, as these contain harsh additives that will harm your plant. You can use this solution to soak your plants, up to the soil line, for 15 minutes. This will eliminate any soil pests. Your next step will be to use the Castile soap solution to spray the leaves and stems, especially the undersides of the leaves. Rinse the plant with clean water, and water the soil well; then allow everything to dry and drain well.
For most plants you’ll want to bring them back inside before a hard frost. (the exceptions are any plants that need to die back before winter storage, e.g. tuberous begonias) I don’t have a suitable area to transition my plants, but an ideal situation would be to gradually accustom them to lower light conditions. Acclimating your plants is basically lessening the shock of moving back inside; some plants react pretty severely to the move. Not to worry if your plants begin to shed a lot of leaves. It is a normal reaction to the lower light conditions. Plants will offload surplus leaves that they grew for outdoor sunlight. Try to site your sun loving plants as close to full sun positions, as practical. If this is not possible, adding some supplemental lighting would help boost the light intensity.
I think the #1 killer of plants during the winter is overwatering and over fertilization. The object of this exercise is enable cold-sensitive plants to successfully overwinter in a dormant state in your house. Unless you have a heated greenhouse, it is almost impossible to keep your tropical species in an active state of growth through our winters up north. If your plant is not actively growing, it will not require as much water as it did before. My Plumeria tree doesn’t receive any water at all from the time I bring it back inside, until the following spring, when I will take it out again. It drops all of it’s leaves the first month it is indoors, and looks like a giant stick creature the remainder of winter. The Hibiscus transitions from daily watering while outdoors, to about once per week indoors. Succulent plants and cacti may receive water once a month or less. Plants in the Amaryllis family (like Clivia and Amaryllis belladonna) won’t receive any water, until just before I want them to wake up from dormancy and start their bloom cycle in the early spring. The only plants that do get a little fertilizer are the Phalaenopsis orchids, which send up bloom spikes in the late fall/early winter, and can use a little boost.
Even though dormant plants have lower water requirements, they do benefit from raising the humidity in their space. Small plants can be grown on pebble filled trays, as long as they don’t sit in standing water. Other plants, such as ferns, love getting sprayed in the shower or using a hand mister. Resist misting hairy leaved plants, to avoid leaf issues. It is ok to wash the leaves off with tepid water, if the leaves are allowed to dry off before setting back in the sun. I never shower or wash my cacti or succulents, instead I dunk them in a tub of water and allow them to soak for a few minutes to adsorb the water, rather than watering directly into the pot. If they are pot-bound especially, the water seems to run right through the pot without allowing the roots to get what they need. It’s nice to see a few flowers that may sprout over the winter, but essentially my plants are now asleep for the winter. Spring and longer days will prompt them to awaken and begin the cycle of growth and bloom again.
November’s to-do list
After a few frosty mornings last week, and the passing of our tender annuals, we can be certain winter is approaching. Everyday sends waves of falling leaves past my window, the ground covered with Maple leaves; in shades of yellow, ochre and red. I was glad to have cleaned up the veggie garden beds last month, one less chore to tackle; now it is time to prepare the flowerbeds for winter.
I have read a few recent articles advising gardeners not to clear out their beds of old plant matter; leaving a haven for beneficial insects. Other authors split the difference and recommend customizing your garden clean outs to your particular area. If you have problems with ticks and field mice or voles, it would be better not to give them places to hide near your house. These pests prefer old leaf litter and fallen vegetation to overwinter in.
In this area, with its rural character, there are enough ‘rough edges’ to keep many insect species safe and protected through the winter, without enabling them near your home. Do consider saving your leaves, rather than sending them to the landfill. Chopped leaves will decompose into a highly nutritive soil amendment, which you can make for free! Leaves contain trace minerals that trees draw up from deep in the soil. When added to your garden, leaf compost feed earthworms and beneficial microbes. They lighten heavy soils and help sandy soils retain moisture.
The only perennial I definitely don’t cut down in the fall are the ornamental grasses. The seed heads and inflorescences look attractive through the winter months, and leaving them intact gives the crowns some insulation from the elements. Any remaining seeds provide a mid-winter snack for some lucky creature.
There is still time to transplant deciduous trees and shrubs; as long as the ground remains unfrozen, and weather permits. Their roots will continue to grow even though they have dropped their leaves. Be sure to water them until the ground freezes, (around mid-December) and mulch the roots well to retain moisture. Meteorologists are predicting another La Nina winter for 2022-23. This may mean another winter with minimal snow, and slightly warmer than usual. Use some of your chopped leaves to mulch around your tender or vulnerable plants. Protect lavender plants with a ‘tent’ of evergreen branches.
After a very droughty summer, it is a relief to be experiencing regular rainfall this fall. Keep watering recently planted woody plants until the ground freezes. Evergreens, especially, need to go into winter well hydrated to avoid winter injury. Evergreens may benefit from a timely application of an anti-desiccant type spray, to help minimize winter drying. Unfortunately, the effect of winter desiccation does not show up until spring, and by then it is too late to help the plant. Please contact Scott Higley for more information: email@example.com
Now that the leaves are down check out your trees for any weaknesses, this summer was especially stressful for trees and shrubs. Scout around for any broken or split branches. Pay particular attention to any trees adjacent to buildings, driveways or power lines. If trees overhang your roof, you may need to clear your gutters out before winter sets in. Clogged gutters may cause ice to freeze up onto your roof, and begin leaking when rain and snow have no place to flow. Please contact our office if you need help with your gutters:
If you would like to decorate with a living Christmas tree this year, dig a hole now before the ground freezes, mulch the hole with straw or chopped leaves (yet another use for your leaves), and keep the hole covered with a tarp, until planting time. It may also be helpful to stockpile some unfrozen soil to backfill the planting hole.
Need help getting your home and yard ready for the holidays? Countryside Landscape can help with outdoor and indoor decorating; wreaths, Balsam roping, trees and lights.
Please contact our office: (413) 458-5586 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Great gardens to explore: check out these winter garden shows!
Now that the gardening season is over, and our gardens are put to bed, it’s time to head out and take inspiration from what others in the gardening world are doing.
There is something about walking into the tropical paradise of a greenhouse from the blustery cold that soothes my winter weary soul. For a little while, I can suspend the world, and relish the warmth and smells of lush growing plants.
Smith College’s annual Fall Chrysanthemum show; showcases the hybridizing experiments by Smith College horticulture students, takes place November 5-20th 2022. Open from 10-4pm daily, 10-8pm Fridays, at the Lyman Plant House 16 College Lane, Northampton, MA. You’ve never seen mums like these fancy flowers!
The New York Botanic Garden’s annual Holiday Train Show is a fun experience for the whole family, not just avid gardeners. NYBG’s Holiday Train Show, has been making memories for over 30 years! See model trains zip through an enchanting display of more than 190 replicas of New York landmarks, each delightfully re-created from natural materials such as birch bark, lotus pods, and much more. November 19th-January 16th 2023 2900 Southern Blvd. Bronx, NY https://www.nybg.org/visit/
The Connecticut Flower Show arrives at the CT Convention Center, 100 Columbus Avenue, from Feb 23-26th 2023. This show packs in demonstrations, garden equipment, seminars, and gorgeous display gardens- in the dead of winter! More info: https://ctflowershow.com/
The Vermont Flower Show held in Essex Junction, VT will be held March 3-5th 2023. The 2023 Vermont Flower Show Grand Garden Display theme will be Out of Hibernation! Spring Comes to the 100-Acre Wood, an adaptation of the world and magic of Winnie the Pooh, by A. A. Milne.
Before too long all of the trees will be bare, and not much to look at in our gardens. If you have planted some specimens with winter interest, like hollies, ornamental grasses, or interesting evergreens, your garden will keep you engaged. The rest of us will have to wait until spring returns. Here are a few of very early spring blooming plants worth waiting all winter to see.
Abeliophyllum distichum, the white Forsythia has a more compact growth habit than its yellow cousin. Fragrant white flowers bloom in March on a rounded shrub with arching branches. Grows 4ft wide x 5ft tall, and prefers full sun to partial sun exposures.
Hamamelis x intermedia, hybrid witch-hazel has very fragrant ribbon-like flowers that bloom January through March. Flowering lasts for over a month, during a barren time in the landscape. Cultivars have been bred to flower in various shades of yellow, red, and coppery bronze. Fall foliage is deep red and yellow. Grows to 15ft tall, prefers full sun to partial sun conditions.
Hamamelis x intermedia in bloom
Erica carnea, the spring Heath is a must for the early spring garden. Masses of rose-pink to white flowers occur January through March. Heath requires well drained, acid soil, in a sunny spot. Considered similar to a ground cover, grows only 10in tall, and spreads to 20in wide.
Helleborus orientalis, the Lenten Rose has evergreen leaves & blooms January through May on 12-24in stems, depending on the variety. Blooms in shades of burgundy, pink, yellow or white. Grows best in humus rich, moist soil, and adapts well to full or part sun.
One of the many colors of Helleborus orientalis
Daphne cneorum or Garland Daphne is a great plant for a rock garden, front of the border or along a walkway. It has especially fragrant flowers in early spring. The bright pink flowers bloom profusely along its trailing stems. Garland Daphne prefers moist, free draining, alkaline to neutral soil types. It will thrive in full sun to partial sun conditions. This low growing plant will mature to be 1ft tall x 2-3ft wide.
Fragrant Daphne cneorum in bloom