Have you hauled in the houseplants? Cool nights, shorter days and the idea of turning on the heat means these vacationers, especially those with tropical origins, should be inside.
Many of the orchids are included in this group, although not all. The strap-leaved cymbidiums should stay out until frost threatens. So should pelargoniums (geraniums), which set buds in cool weather; cyclamen, which prefer cool weather; and the so-called Christmas cactus Schlumbergera bridgesii, which needs short days and/or cool nights to set buds. Kalanchoe like it cool and if you keep them dark for the next month from 6 p.m. until dawn, they, too, will bloom for the holidays.
Those are some of the exceptions you can leave by the back door, but don't forget them when temperatures dip to freezing or you'll lose them forever. The rest of the crowd should be back in their winter quarters and the more gradually they are able to adapt to indoor living before the heat goes on the better. Heated quarters are considerably drier than outdoors. What's bad for your skin is bad for most plants. So the longer they have to acclimate to drier, darker living, the less likely they are to drop leaves, develop dry edges or otherwise behave badly.
To keep plants looking great after their summer break, cut back on fertilizer -- unless they are blooming profusely -- and water only as needed. Many plants use winter as a rest period, and put out little new growth and no flowers. Some -- grasses and plants like phormium, the bronze-leafed New Zealand flax -- might even need to dry out for a while.
Check growing conditions before you place plants inside: south windows for sun lovers, east and west exposures for those more tolerant of low light. I find African violets and their kin, such as gloxinias, to be one of the few to bloom successfully in northern exposures. For a green touch in truly dark corners and dry conditions you can't beat (and probably can't match), choose the aspidistra, which summers in heavy shade. A somewhat brighter touch for dark areas is the variegated form of this plant, but give it good soil
and the variegation will disappear (it prefers poor soil). Also remember to use day-old water when giving plants with variegated foliage a drink. Cuttings of some coleus root quickly in water or soil and make nice houseplants in record time.
Keep in mind that potted plants that remained in their pots all summer will adjust better than those that were planted out for the duration and had to be repotted. These can take up to six months to settle into their new digs.
Clean off pots and foliage with a horticultural soap bath or spray plants inside a plastic bag with insecticide so any outside visitors will be evicted. Wintering insect eggs often are found under leaves and in corners and crevices of planters.
Plants that have put on lots of new growth need repotting. Remember to move them into a pot just one size larger, and add soil to the bottom of the container, not the top.
The plant root ball should remain at the same depth it was in the original pot. If you must return your plants to their original pots, you might have to divide the plant or reduce the size of the root ball/foliage. I typically do this with the hibiscus standards I grow that have stayed in their same containers for years. These often need to be repotted twice a year and I'm always amazed at how the roots of these heavy feeders fill the pot in a matter of months. Repot all plants (except orchids that need fast-draining bark mixes) with a good potting mix that drains well.
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