Shut Up and Dig

Can these plants be saved?

Room
Indoor plant area, last winter.

Not all of them, that’s for sure. It happens every October. Even as I write this, I am thinking wearily about the one big one that’s still out there.

I should really pause Mad Men and bring it in right now.

The good part of the whole indoor/outdoor thing is that at the beginning of the season things look lusher than they otherwise might. I have a large jasmine that bursts into bloom just before I bring it out in May, as well as a bunch of other flowering and foliage tropicals. They’re like an instant garden. But now is the time I dread. Now they have to be dragged in and kept alive somehow.  Now is the time I look long and hard at a plant and decide.  Is it time for a change? How much would it cost to just buy another one?

Plants I overwinter fall into a few categories.  First there are the large jasmine and gardenia that have moved into larger and larger pots over the years.  These look nice and glossy during the winter, though they seldom like the conditions enough to flower indoors. 

Then we have our gigantic tropicals: colocasia and alocasia. The dilemma here is to let them go dormant or keep them growing.  There can be as many as 8 of these, depending. They stay in pots inside and get planted around the pond in May. Dormant is the most convenient, but you can’t always depend on it—one or 2 might not survive their basement incarceration.

There are also a growing family of amaryllis/hippeastrum. I can’t treat these as annuals, even though I know my life would be much easier if I did. I do like their strappy leaves as accents during the summer, and then there's the February flowers—usually.

But the biggest group is a changing crew of impulse purchases, depending on what I take it into my head to save.  The indestructible scented geraniums, the amarcrinum that didn’t bloom in time, the spectacular plectranthus that’s still covered with flowers …

The good news is that there are more grow lights available for regular fixtures now. The plants seem to like being crammed together—and the more crowded they are the fewer problems I notice.

One useful tool for overwintering: the pot lifter. It was sent to me last year, and it really helps get the big ones up and down the stairs.

All the same. Tonight’s the night I might just forget there’s a frost on and leave that last one out in the cold.

 

Posted by on October 19, 2010 at 5:00 am, in the category Shut Up and Dig.
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19 responses to “Can these plants be saved?”

  1. So funny…I do the same thing albeit with fewer plants. I’m a houseplant killer to boot. I started a few years ago with one small succulent and it’s grown to just four plants–all I have room or time for. I think ‘I’ll winter this over’ when I buy something now, but this year I was decisive – the succulent, two topiaries I trained all summer (a coleus and an ivy) and a begonia that I just love and makes me smile everytime I see it. That’s it though…no more…there’s no more room or time or heat or sunny windows.

  2. Lisa, Ontario says:

    I really only have one window that is even remotely adequate. It is a big bay window, but it makes the front of my house look a little…well junky with all this stuff stuck in it. It will only have the one hypertufa pot of succulents that I loved this year, and then later it will house all of the amaryllis for the entire first half of the year. I wish I could throw out amaryllis after they flower. But then I would only have one or two this year, because the good ones are so expensive. Instead I have to find homes for around 12.

  3. commonweeder says:

    I keep only the easiest plants going through the winter. This is partly because I can’t bring myself to get rid of them all for economic reasons, and partly because I don’t have much space. I like concentrating on the outside gardens.

  4. John says:

    I take cuttings of my favorite plectranthus’ and begonias during the heat of summer, that way by fall I can take a few more risks with the larger plants. If the babies look healthy I’ll toss or give away the mama. It really does come down to a Sophie’s Choice kinda weekend though.

    Luckily my new house has a basement where elephant ears, begonias, ferns and dormant bulbs do just fine. I usually cram bananas into a corner and barely pay any attention to them all winter and most of them make it.

    I filled the windows with new houseplants all summer so now I have some hard decisions to make.

  5. Pam J. says:

    “pause Mad Men”??? No, no, no, never. I like the look of your winter plant room. It looks healthy. (Don and Megan will never stay married…they might not even GET married. And will next year be the year that Peggy starts her own PR firm? Could be.)

  6. I’m glad to see I’m not alone in this craziness. For me it’s the agaves and a few tender tropicals. To the basement they go! It’s always a bit of a dance…keep them outside as long as possible…but don’t wait too long. I watch the forecast like my life depended on it.

  7. Kaviani says:

    From that pic, it looks like you need a mirror or 2 on the walls adjacent to the window for better light.

    I’m also a fan of dormancy. Some plants just do better that way…less chance of fungal infections, too.

  8. Eliz says:

    Pam J–srsly. You’d think that Don could restrain himself just once. But you would be wrong.

  9. Deirdre says:

    I’m bad. I only just brought in the last of my orchids. I’m waiting for a frost to kill the tops of the tuberous begonias, the fuchsias, and the dahlias in the deck pots. I used to just buy new ones, but money is tight, and I was given a mini greenhouse, so I take advantage of it. It’s only warm enough for dormant plants. I put the dahlias in the mini greenhouse pots and all. I think the potlifter is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Spring and fall, it gets a work out. I also have more plants than I have room for inside. Some, like the Christmas cacti and florists’ cyclamen, stay on the porch. I bring them in only if it’s going to go below 30. Fortunately, we have a limited number of days below thirty in Seattle.

    I think Kaviani’s idea of mirrors is a really good one. A mirror would bounce the light off that wall back onto your plants.

  10. Tibs says:

    I have gotten rid of almost all of my houseplants. They were common ones (spider plant, asparagus fern) So what if I have had them since the mid 70’s? So I have 2 chrstmas cacti from the grandmother, long gone, she of the green arm, which is way beyond green thumb in plant skills, and one dwarf canna. I have two snake plants, from my mother. I was going to dump one but… and then there is the some-kind-of-large-palm that had been a plant from a funeral. I am not bringing it in. Good by to this over sized thing.

    I have to get the pot carrier. Where has this been all my life? I sent the link to spouse with the heading Your chrismas shopping is complete if you get me this.

  11. Denise says:

    Every year I bring in a potted rosemary to my very limited indoor well-lit spot…every year I get to about March when I forget to water it and kill it…haven’t yet decided if I’ll be repeating the cycle again this year :(

  12. Vicky Gorny says:

    I am sooo far gone. I put a 4×4 skylight in my plant alcove.

  13. Laurie Brown says:

    I had to do the Big Move early this year because of threatened frost that didn’t happen until a month later, so come late spring I’m going to have some seriously unhappy indoor plants- even more unhappy than usual.

    The geraniums (scented and stellar and variegated types) stay in the same size pots year to year, thank heaven. The plumaria has managed several years in the same pot, also. It has the decency to bloom several times a year, including indoors in winter. The bird of paradise demands a larger pot every year, though, but I will never get rid of it even when I need to purchase a pallet jack to move it, as it blooms in winter in it’s brilliant orange and purple. The grapefruit tree just gets larger and does nothing… the flowering gingers never do anything, either, but I’m fond of their foliage even though I have to trim in frequently to keep the brown out of it. The sweet potato vines (Blackie and Margaurita) I lose during winter half the time, but that doesn’t stop me from trying.

    Of course none of these plants is truly happy in here, because I only have one south window. It’s packed, and the others have to share the north and east windows, clawing at the glass and drooping over. But I can’t stop myself…

  14. As a quick aside, those cool spirally compact florescent light bulbs in addition to being better for the environment are great for plants — and, of course, fit into all sorts of non-hideous light fixtures.

  15. Susan says:

    I don’t know whether I’m actually lucky or not – I have a small conservatory on the front of the house (south-facing), so I have a lot of room for overwintering plants. The down side is that I have a lot of room for overwintering plants. I must have amaryllis for the winter, so those take up some space. Then of course, there’s all the seeds I start in late winter – more space needed. It’s a sickness, we all know this…..

    I’m completely with you on the Pot Lifter, Elizabeth! One of the best purchases I ever made.

  16. Laura Munoz says:

    I, too, leave mine outdoors for the winter. I have two plastic garbage cans filled with a variety of “plant” blankets. If a frost threatens, I spend 30-45 minutes covering them. This can be a real pain in the ***. Cover them. Uncover them. Cover them…And it also makes the back yard look like a homeless shelter. I’m still using the very thermal Little Mermaid blanket that my 22 y/o daughter had as a kid.

    Five years ago, I built a potting shed with lots of windows specifically to overwinter my plants in, BUT I never had the time/money to install electricity to it, so my plants continue living outdoors in the winter.

    Too bad the pot lifter takes two people. There’s only one of me!

  17. Here’s what I do on my North Florida balcony: I leave my plants out unless there’s a hard freeze watch with the exception of my orchids, which I only bring those in during a frost watch, much to the horror of orchid hobbyists! Just imagine doing the great plant exodus several times in winter like I do… that’s why I leave some outside against the sliding glass door; I don’t have the time.

    If I lived up north I would keep the alocasia going in winter, wiping the leaves with a damp towel to keep the spidermites at bay. Colocasias need too much humidity, so I would keep them dormant in winter.

    I think a good rule of thumb if you’re keeping an “indoor garden” over the winter is to prune your plants so there’s more air circulation and they’re easier to maintain. Spraying the leaves with a mister is helpful too, and is a good way to keep the leaves clean and free of pests.

    Keep us posted!

  18. Donna says:

    That is my office every year. ha ha. I barely has enough room to move, let alone work. I fully understand the madness.

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