Thursday, November 19, 2015

Over Wintering Tender Plants


Oddly enough, here on PEI we still have some tender plants such as Annuals and Tropicals that are still blooming in November.  Of course many of these plants are in a sheltered location, however that still counts doesn’t it...? This is definitely something that can be celebrated as we deserve to have an extended fall here in the East this year after what mother nature dumped on us last year! Remember this...

If you have always wanted to try to over winter your plants that could still be actively growing outdoors, its not too late to bring them inside to try to over winter them.  This can be done so easily and you don’t even need a greenhouse to do it. Aside from checking for moisture from time to time for a light watering, there really isn’t much work involved.

Of course the indoor tropical plants that you put outside during the summer months have already made it indoors, but like I say…you may be surprised what you find still thriving as you take a walk around your gardens.  Today, November 18, I noticed right outside the Vesey’s Garden Gate store there is a cluster of geraniums still in bloom as shown in the picture above.

Some gardeners, like my dear sweet nanny, Beryl Wood who is 95 years young, keeps hers going all winter and then sets them outdoors once risk of frost has passed.  Of course she still plants new Geraniums in the spring as well because she just can’t resist the beauty of the new varieties. I know what your thinking…its all fine and dandy if you have the time and space, but all it takes is either a sunny window or a cool dark location in your basement. There are a few types of plants that go dormant (not actively growing) during the winter months and will do well in any cold room, unheated garage (that doesn’t freeze) or as mentioned a cool basement. As you can see from the picture below what types of plants that I have been able to successfully over winter in my cold room the past few years. Grouping plants together as well as misting foliage lightly will provide an added benefit to these plants. This gives them natural humidity resulting in the exact amount of moisture needed during their transition. 

If you do decide to try this its a good idea to take the time to inspect the plants for insects or diseases before setting them in their temporary winter location. Certain types of plants will also benefit from being trimmed back as this will help them reach dormancy in a natural way. If you do find some pests, common ones are white flies and mealy bugs as shown in the pictures below.



You can use a dab of rubbing alcohol diluted with an equal part of water on any infestation. A spray of horticultural oil or insecticidal soap would work as well if you have it on hand.  I have even had success with giving the plants a steam bath. Watch the bugs scatter from the pot as they don’t link the steam/heat combination and the plant also benefits from the humidity!
    Winter care is so easy, just water if soil feels dry as if you were treating the over wintering plants that need sun like a houseplant. For winter plants that enjoy the sunlight you can water when the upper two inches becomes dry. If they are over watered it will risk them to have problems such as root rot. Overwatering is the biggest reason why houseplants die. For the over wintering dormant plants they would only need a sparingly amount of water every couple weeks and no fertilizer is needed on any of these plants during the winter months. Good air circulation is also essential when storing any plants during this process. As the daylight starts to lengthen and temperatures start to warm, you can slowly start to water more as well as introduce a low application of fertilizer.
    Do not get discouraged if plants drop some leaves.  This will sometimes happen as plants adjust to a new location, just a minor setback. If you find your plants are struggling a bit you can try moving them to where there is more light or provide them with a proper plant grow light.
    Its always good to have a little "heads up" with tips for individual plants that may have different requirements. Plants like Hibiscus and Mandevilla do not go dormant, instead they are considered “semi-dormant” plants. Leave these types of plants with their old foliage. If they were cut back they would put on new growth which would exhaust the plant creating spindly shoots and risk of insects and diseases.  My Mandevilla seems quite happy in the dark as it put out a new bloom on its own!


    Tropical plants that grow from bulbs or tubers such as elephant ear, caladium, sweet potato vine, canna, dahlias and begonias should get nipped by frost before they are brought in.  This sends a clear message to the plant to go into dormancy, but don't worry if haven't done this.  For these types of bulbs you can do one of two things. You can leave the plants right in their existing pots and keep the soil at a very minimal amount of moisture then store in a cool, dark location.


 You may also choose to cut the stems and foliage back, dig them up and surround them with peat moss or sawdust. This drying material will ensure that there is the right amount of moisture around them as well as preventing them from drying out. You can surround the plants in this storing medium in newspapers or in a cardboard box. This will allow for good ventilation during dormancy unlike a plastic bag or container would. Check these bulbs from time to time to be sure they don’t dry out and lightly mist the peat moss/sawdust if they appear dry.

So as you can clearly see how simple it is to save some of your plants that you grew so attached to from either spending the time growing them from seed or finding one of your all time favourite plants. I can attribute my garden success stems from my family.  I couldn't resist attaching this photo below since I had referenced my 95 year old nanny earlier in this post. I need to explain this picture of her below...She and my Aunt love going for tours of the countryside.  The country roads led them to the trial gardens at Veseys.  When they drove up to the field to find me, my nanny was so interested in the weeding I was doing that she said, and I quote her, "I just need to get out and pull a few weeds." So awesome to see that gardening brings out the youthful side in everyone!

Keep cozy as gardens are now put to bed!

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