WICHE: Houseplants move indoors

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It's not as difficult as you might think.

By Jeneen Wiche

Fall has arrived with two threats of frost so far (but none that materialized for the farm.) Frost is inevitable, of course, it happens every year, so let’s get organized for the return of our tropical to the not-so-great indoors.

The lush plants that spent the summer out on the patio or are now faced with a less than ideal existence indoors…but there are some things we can do (including lowering our expectations in some cases) to help them get through the winter in the healthiest way possible.

Before I move everything, I first group all the plants destined for indoors, so I can treat them with neem oil. Neem is a botanical insecticide that is extremely effective in controlling scale, white fly, mealy bugs, etc. It works better and longer than many conventional systemic products (plus it doesn’t stink like Orthene and Malathion).

The plants that people seem to ask the most questions about when preparing for winter storage are undoubtedly angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia), banana trees, bougainvillea, diplademia, frangipani and the tropical bulbs like cannas. All put on a great deal of growth throughout the summer months, so they appear to be too large to manage.

But they all can be stored easily, during what would normally be a more dormant period for them if they were in their native environment. You can put all of these plants in a cool, dark place until spring rolls around again.

Brugmansia can be left in the pot, cut back by about half and essentially forgotten for the winter. If you can put the plant, container and all, in a cool, out-of-the-way place where you can forget about it, you won’t fret over how pathetic it looks in this state. Visit it once a month for a little watering and walk away again.

Any banana trees in your possession can be stored, with the roots loosely wrapped in newspaper, on the floor beside the brugmansia.

Fragipani, or Plumeria rubra, should not be cut back. Once the leaves drop, you can set it next to the angel trumpet and treat it the same way.

Diplademia and bougainvillea are thinned and trimmed and set in a cool room in the basement. They do not go completely dormant because there is sunny window nearby, but they do slow down a bit.

This is a time to slow down, in fact, so do not try to keep every plant actively growing. They need the rest, so do not fertilize and keep watering to a minimum.

Shorter days, lower light levels and low humidity trigger physiological responses in plants, so we should not make them fight their nature by over watering and fertilizing.

Bulbs, such as cannas, caladiums, gladiolus, dahlias and tuberous begonias, also cause concern among gardeners this time of the year. These tender bulbs are not as tender as some lead us to believe.

I say throw caution to the wind and see what comes back! For the conservative gardeners who insist on digging, get it done by the first killing frost.

Once the tender bulbs have been lifted, clean them and allow them to air dry for about two weeks. Once they have “cured,” they can be placed in storage.

Dahlias are more susceptible to drying out so you only need to let these bulbs air dry one day before you pack them in boxes. Dahlias, caladiums and tuberous begonias can all be packed in boxes, between layers of vermiculite or peat moss. Cannas and gladiolus don’t need to be covered and can be put in mesh bags or old pantyhose to ensure good air circulation during storage.

Ideal storage temperatures range from around 40 to 50 degrees, except for caladiums, which prefer a warmer storage at 60. These are ideals, not necessities; most bulbs will store successfully in generally “cool” basement.

See why I don’t dig?


Check out gardening columnist Jeneen Wiche’s work at www.SwallowRailFarm.com. You can find her columns also at www.SentinelNews.com/agriculture. She answers questions once a month in SentinelNewsPlus. To submit a question, send an E-mail to jwiche@shelbybb.netand type “Sentinel-News” in the subject field.