Category Archives: Winter Preparations

Wintering Tender Plants Indoors

Suddenly, one morning you wake up, and the chill in the air alerts you that autumn has unofficially arrived. Once the nighttime temperatures begin to dip into the 40’s, it’s time to start bringing plants indoors, beginning with those that are only hardy to the warmer zones 9, 10 and 11. (Think some Alpinia, Coleus, Cuphea, Acalypha, Alternanthera, Cyperus, Impatiens, etc.) If available space is a concern, be selective and choose the hardest to acquire specimens first. Do you have a warm space available that is well lit and humid enough for tropicals, such as a bathroom or laundry room? Remember that indoor heating systems create a warm but dry air environment. Plants that prefer more arid conditions, such as tender succulents, Pelargonium, and some Begonia easily adapt to the transition indoors.

Important! Here are two things you should do first. The days are getting shorter and there is less light available indoors. Plants will begin to respond to the change in temperature and light by dropping foliage, and in some cases flower production ceases. To counter the low light levels, we recommend trimming back large leafy plants so there is less growth for the plants to support. Also, inspect plants for insect activity and as well as burrowing snails, slugs and other hitchhikers. Spray with a botanical pest control, such as insecticidal soap or Neem. Spray again in 7-10 days to arrest any late hatching, and monitor in the weeks to come.

Plants that are hardy to zones 7 and 8 can handle cool winter temperatures in the 35-40 degree F. range, and will do well in a sunny attic, basement or garage. These plants include Abutilon, Phormium, Fuchsia, Phygelius, Hebe, Coprosma, Astelia, Centaurea, many Salvia and Pelargonium, to name a few. Remember that since their growth has slowed down due to lower light levels, stop fertilizing and water just enough to keep them from drying out, since  constantly wet soil contributes to root rot.

Next week’s article: Storing dormant roots.

Wintering Over I: Taking Cuttings

Saving Coleus Cuttings

You may have acquired a collection of stunning tender perennials that have added so much to your containers and gardens, but soon, frost will be imminent. Before you drag dozens (hundreds?) of pots indoors, first consider how much storage room your home/garage/cellar offers, (let’s assume you don’t have a greenhouse, but if you do, terrific!). Usually space is quite limited, and you’ll need to be ruthless in deciding what gets saved. Focus on the hard to find varieties. Next, decide what needs to be actively growing, and what can be stored as dormant roots (more on that in later blog postings). In general, plants that are the least cold tolerant (zones 9, 10 and 11), i.e. Coleus, need to be kept in an active state and need warm indoor temperatures.

We found that taking cuttings of easy to root plants like Coleus, Salvia and Cuphea is one way to limit the number of big bushy plants that will compete for light on your windowsill. Begin taking cuttings at the beginning of September and be sure to label each variety. Select non flowering tips with 2-3 nodes and remove the lower leaves. Dip the tips in a light rooting hormone and stick in a tray or pot of a light potting medium or sand. Place in a shady warm spot and water/mist several times a day for the next 2 weeks or so. A gentle tug will let you know when roots have taken hold. Once decent roots are set, gently unearth and transplant into small pots, or leave in the rooting pot itself. Go light on the fertilizing this fall and winter, since you do not want to encourage too much growth. In the spring, transplant into a richer soil mix. You can begin taking more cuttings as soon as vigorous fresh growth permits.