Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Overwintering Plants: Which Ones Should You Keep?

The following is an excerpt from Bulbs in the Basement, Geraniums on the Windowsill by Alice and Brian McGowan.

Most house interiors tend to be warmer and drier than is ideal for many plants in containers. Are you willing to adjust the thermostat down to 55 or 60˚F? Will you remember to water your containers once a week? (Don’t forget to provide saucers for all the pots.) These are basic but important questions to consider before you start hauling around those heavy pots!
As tempting as it may be to save everything from the summer patio, be realistic about the storage space you have. A smaller number of plants with more space around them will be easier to keep healthy than a jungle of plants crammed into an area that’s too small to accommodate them all.

Your available space for plants is an important factor in determining what will be manageable for you. Assuming that you’re considering only those plants that have performed well, begin your selection with ones that would be difficult to replace. A plant might be expensive or relatively rare where you live. Perhaps you grew it from seed that took a long time to germinate or was difficult to obtain. Or maybe the plant was given to you by a close friend or relative and has sentimental value. Everyone has his or her own reasons for wanting to keep a particular plant.

Some plants are so inexpensively and readily available that it doesn’t make sense to keep them from one season to another. When such a plant is winter blooming, however, or has particularly attractive foliage and form, it may be worth keeping, especially if it is also easy to care for. Most kalanchoes, cacti, succulents, durantas, many convolvulus, and anisodontea fall into this category.

How you define low-maintenance is highly personal and depends quite a bit on the specifics of your space. In a cool sunroom or porch, keeping rosemary happy should be easy. But overwintering the same plant in a warmer, heated living area is guaranteed to be a challenge. In the dry, warm air of most homes, it’s easy to miss the early signs that this plant needs to be watered, and serious damage may occur before you notice its distress. In a warm space without good air circulation, conditions will also be ripe for the development of mildew or for the proliferation of pests like aphids. By the same token, keeping a brugmansia healthy in a cool, sunny space might not be so difficult — but try it in a warm room and you’ll be inviting an infestation of whiteflies. The decision of what to keep for the winter and where to situate it will be informed by many factors. Give each plant some thought well before you need to take action. Remember that when they’re happy, plants have a way of growing, and will, in time, occupy more space than they were originally allotted.

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