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Getting House Plants Ready for Winter
As a professional in the nursery business I am use to getting phone calls and emails with all kinds of garden questions . This time of the year many of the questions deal with planting bulbs, harvesting herbs, trimming spent plants and lots of other autumn and winter garden chores. But the most frequently asked questions in October deal with the winterizing of house plants. This might include the tender garden plants brought in, house plants that summer outdoor and those that just remain indoors all year long.
First, tender perennials that are native to warmer areas respond best to the move indoors when they are kept in pots outside rather than being dug from the garden. Passion Flowers, Jasmine, tender Salvias, Geraniums and many other bloomers often are wonderful indoor additions once they get past the "shock" of less light and humidity. I usually cut them back just a little so that they better fit the spaces that I have the most light.
Right now I have about 6 Geraniums in my dinning room bay window which has a south western exposure. There is also a big Gardenia, two 3 foot tall Salvia in blue and purple bloom and some great old Cyclamen that have been on the porch all summer.
When the plants first come in, it is natural for many leaves to fall. Keeping some fresh air in the room, watering often and just sweeping up the leaves usually works well. A mild food helps too, but once Thanksgiving comes, withhold food until at least the new year or even Valentine's Day. Too much food when hours of sunlight are short and temperatures are high cause weak, lanky growth.
Some house plants that summer outdoors often need good showers before they come back in. Re-pot in sterile potting soil if the roots seem crowded. Go easy on food until spring, but give some if the plant looks like it needs it. I find a small sprinkle of Osmocote time release fertilizer in fall lasts all winter and works best for me. I hung a white fly strip in my window and where ever plants came in, this helps catch any pests that might have come in with the plants. My ferns look like some leaves are yellowing since being brought indoors and the blooms are falling from Begonias and a few others. Most need some time to adjust when the house heat goes on. Try not to let plants dry out too much. Wilting is not good for them. Cacti and succulents are the exception, but they need a weekly watering also.
Plants that have never been out also show signs of weakening as the days become darker from now until the first of the year. A good shower every so often removes dust and drenches the plant in good humidity. Clean plants can better utilize the weakened rays of sunlight this time of the year. All plants respond to a good trimming. This keeps the plant looking neat, but it also encourages new growth and the filling in of most plants providing there is enough light. Freshly showered plants should not be put right back in a window if it its very cold or if there is string sunlight. This might cause browning of leaves. Allow the plant to drip dry on the drain board.
Remember that some plants bloom, others like ferns add soft greenery, cacti need very little care but need a hot, sunny spot. For the best fragrance indoors from October until mid May, choose a fragrant Sweet Olive (Osmanthus fragrans) plant. The small, cream colored blooms often cover the plant with blooms, filling the room with fragrance. Just water when dry and keep this plant as near to the window glass as you can to insure a cool evening and bright light and you will be successful. If you have a cool window that gets good morning sun till early afternoon, try a colorful Cyclamen. Mine bloomed from Thanksgiving through spring and into summer last year. This was first time they lasted so long. I watered them when dry, picked off dead blooms and gave them food all spring and summer.
Some of the easiest of all for a hot, sunny window are in the succulent family. I love Kolanchoe, they also bloom all winter if cared for and kept in good light. The orange, yellow, pink and red plants will brighten and room. They have the same cultural needs as Christmas cacti and bloom when the hours of daylight become shorter. Left outside until near frost time, they usually set buds naturally.
Be creative and add a few new fragrant or colorful plants to your winter window garden.
||Lorraine Kiefer is the owner of Triple Oaks Nursery and has been a garden writer since 1972. Click here to email her.