By Ken Lain, the mountain gardener
Many outdoor garden plants are actually warm weather perennials; if brought indoors they will grow all year ’round. Since houses have less light than the out-of-doors, shade tolerant plants make good choices for seasonal houseplants. Indoor climates are cooler and less humid than those outside, so tropical plants brought in as houseplants may need extra attention. Acclimate the plants gradually. You’ll have some challenges and failures, but it’s worth a gardener’s try.
Geraniums – have been overwintering indoors for years. You can allow them to go dormant until spring, but if you have a bright south facing window, you can have repeat blooms all winter. Geraniums that have been growing outdoors in pots make the best candidates, as they don’t like having their roots disturbed. Bring them in before frost and give the plants a light trim. Water when dry, feed monthly, and they should bloom and be pest free.
Coleuses -are everywhere these days. The old-fashioned seed-grown varieties that prefer some shade make especially nice houseplants. If your plants are too large to bring indoors, keep in mind that coleuses root quickly from cuttings. Give coleuses indirect bright light. They like to be warm, but will tolerate cooler nights and temperatures down to about 55 degrees F. Keep their soil moist and feed monthly. Be sure to pinch off any flowers as they appear to keep the plants from going to seed.
Begonias – are becoming more popular with breeders, and many varieties make excellent foliage plants. In particular, Rex begonias, with the unusual colors, patterns, and textures of their foliage, make nice houseplants. They can be difficult, because they prefer high humidity, but grown on a pebble tray helps. Rex begonias also like warm soil and a chance to dry out slightly between waterings.
Fuchsias – look very tropical, but they actually enjoy cooler temperatures in the 60 – 70 degree F. range. They benefit from a winter rest. Bring the plants indoors before frost and trim back to about 6 inches. Place in a cool spot (45 – 50 degrees F.) with low light. Water lightly, only when the soil feels dry. In spring, move back into a sunny spot and resume watering regularly. New growth should follow shortly. Repot with fresh soil and begin feeding every other week.
Abutilons – are often grown in containers or beds as annuals, but they actually are tropical shrubs. They like bright light (S or W) and warm temperatures of 65 degrees F. or higher. Avoid drafts. Allow to dry between waterings, and feed every other week with a water-soluble fertilizer. Can be pruned lightly in the fall and will often bloom in early to mid-spring. Keep an eye out for pests.
Caladiums – sold as reasonably priced tubers, often are potted and sold, for much more, as houseplants. Caladiums can tolerate full shade outdoors, but like indirect light indoors. Keep their soil moist, but not wet. They don’t like to be cold, preferring temperatures ranging from 60 to 85 degrees F. If the leaves start to yellow and the plant is struggling, allow it to die back and rest until spring. Store in a cool, dry spot and repot it in February or March.
Boxwoods and myrtles – make easy-going houseplants and nice winter decorations. They prefer a direct light source ,and turning every few days will keep them growing evenly on all sides. Humidity is crucial to evergreen houseplants and misting is necessary. Water when the soil feels dry and feed monthly. Keep watch for spider mites.
Hibiscuses – adapt well to the indoors and may bloom all winter if kept in a very sunny window. You can trim the plants, but because hibiscuses grow slowly in winter, you may not see any new growth. Allow the soil to dry between waterings, but feel free to mist daily. If you dont have an ideal warm, sunny window, opt for a cool spot with average light, let them drop their leaves and go dormant. Keep an eye out for aphids.
Peppers – are tropical perennials that can be kept growing and producing for several years. Smaller hot peppers are the easiest to bring indoors, but any pepper is worth a try. As with growing peppers outdoors, they like to be a little dry and a little underfed. But bright direct light is necessary to set flowers and grow peppers. Watch for aphids and fungus gnats.
Herbs – do well indoors. For annuals and biennials, like basil and parsley, it’s best to start with a small, younger plant. It’s hard to kill chives and even if they are hit by frost, they will rejuvenate indoors in a pot. Perennials, like lemon grass and rosemary, can be potted and brought back and forth from the outdoor herb garden to the indoor window sill. Be sure they all get bright light, or they will get leggy. Trim and use your herbs to keep them bushy and full.
Free Gardening Class topic this Saturday, November 19, is Wildflowers to Bloom in 6 Easy steps. Attendance is free, but the first 10 students to sign up receive a package of Ken’s specially blended mountain mix with all the goodies to make them bloom like crazy this spring. Wildflowers can be harder to grow than you think, but not after this info-heavy class.
Nov 26 – Decorating with Holiday Tropicals, Poinsettias, and Christmas Cactuses. The first of these festive plants arrives this week, just in time for this class. Decorating ideas for our indoor tropicals and holiday plant collection can bring out the kid in the most avid gardener.
The full schedule of classes is available at WattersGardenCenter.com.
Until next issue, I’ll see you at Watters Garden Center.