2010-09-16 / News

Time to save your summer plants

The Island Garden
By Roger Marshall

Summer ends this Wednesday – according to the U.S. Naval Observatory, the autumnal equinox occurs Sept. 22 at 11:09 p.m. EDT.

That means it’s the perfect time to look to your less-thanhardy plants.

What are you going to do with that mandevilla with its showy blossoms? What will happen to the dwarf orange tree that you figured would look good on the patio all summer? Or the fig tree that has rewarded you with a ton of fresh figs? What do you do with the dahlias that have pushed up great swirls of flowers all summer long? How do you protect them all from freezing and dying?

Quite simply, unless you have a greenhouse or enclosed porch – and are prepared to heat it all winter – there’s not a lot you can do. Many outdoor plants will survive the winter inside your home, but they also need light, so they’ll take up space in front of windows that may be better used to generate solar heat to keep the house warm.

What you do with each plant depends on many factors, the most basic of which is your confi dence that you can keep the plants alive during the winter.

First, some basics: Your mandevilla can be cut back to the roots and brought indoors. I’ve done this successfully for five years now. As long as you keep it in a warm location where it will not freeze and water it sparingly, it will survive. It may push up the beginnings of new vines, but you can train them around a bamboo cane and let them grow slowly until next year. In spring, fertilize and set the plant back out on the patio.

Dwarf citrus, hibiscus, gardenias and other semi-tropicals should be sprayed with a pesticide to ensure that you do not bring bugs indoors. Do it twice, 10 days apart, to kill off insect eggs you missed the first time. Then, bring the plants indoors and set them on a sunny windowsill. Water sparingly, just enough to keep the leaves looking glossy.

Fig trees can be put in the back of the garage, as long as it doesn’t freeze. Water once a month; otherwise, just pick up any dropped leaves. They will survive in temperatures to 25 degrees or so, but not for long. If your fig is hit by frost and the top is damaged, do not throw out the roots. Figs will often regenerate from the roots, but you’ll have a fig bush rather than a tree.

It’s best to dig up dahlias, canna lilies, gladiolus and other tropicals before the end of September and store them in a cool, dry basement or garage. Do not let them freeze, or the tubers will turn to mush. Let them dry – it won’t hurt them, unless they dry out too much.

Geraniums and fuchsias should be moved to a warm, dry place where they can spend the winter. Cut fuchsias back to the ground at the end of the season and water regularly. The plants will send up new shoots that carry next year’s flowers.

Bring all cacti indoors before frost hits – right about now, to be safe. Set them on a sunny windowsill and keep them on the dry side.

During the winter months, plants in your home will likely dry out quickly because of low humidity in the house. If you stick your finger in the soil every few days, you’ll get a dirty finger, but that’s OK. Only water when your finger tells you that the soil is dry. When watering, use only water, no fertilizer. You do not want to encourage the plant to grow, but you do want to keep it minimally alive.

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