Time to Bring the Outside In

11/14/2012 | Ken Lain, mountain gardener Houseplants, Outdoor Living

This week is always a special time at our house for two reasons. First, we celebrate the birthday of our twins, our youngest daughters, Meghan and McKenzie. So, Happy “Sweet 16” Birthday wishes to you both! Prescott motorists: If you see a sporty VW Beetle driving around town you might beware of the cutest rookie drivers I know.

With a big family scattered throughout the state, the girls’ birthday is a first-rate reason to bring us all together. It also is the second reason this time is significant at our house, because at the birthday party is when I dole out my summer-blooming plants to board with my desert-dwelling relatives. Each year moms, brothers, and sisters-in-law have attractive winter patios, desks, and entryways courtesy of my blooming beauties as they spend the winter where temperatures are warmer. Without this outlet for my plants I would have to bring them indoors for the winter months or, without adequate space, let them go belly-up. This year our family migration plan was executed just in time; by the end of this next week it looks like frost will hit our mountain communities.

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If you want to salvage some of your outdoor container plants, they should be brought inside right away. Making this move takes time and energy, but with just a little planning and correct preparations, your plants will provide winter-long enjoyment indoors, thrive in good health, and be ready for their move back to the patio come spring.

The Big Cut – This is the time to give these plants their fall haircuts. Prune off dead flowers, yellowed leaves, and any other growths you consider unsightly. Administer a few more snips to give shape and balance to the remaining foliage. This cosmetic touch-up allows for maximum air circulation that reduces debilitating bacterial and fungal growths. This is not a buzz cut, only a trim; so leave on lots of the green leaves.

Give ‘em the Big Flush – Our local water contains a good deal of salt and minerals that build up in the soil and on the containers. Flush each plant with at least a gallon of water until the water is flowing freely from the bottom of the container. Another goal of this more than generous watering is to drown and flush away unwanted insects living in the soil, so . . . flush, flush, flush!

A Clean Affair – Take this opportunity to clean up the outsides of the containers. Wash and brush off mineral residue, debris, and dirty spots that have settled on the pots. Less than pristine containers are common and acceptable on a patio, but not welcomed in a living room. Spray dulled terra-cotta clay pots with mineral oil to restore their vibrancy.

Don’t Bug Me – Bugs can be flushed out of the soil but their eggs might remain and the warmer indoor temperatures will cause eggs to hatch right away, rewarding you with huge indoor colonies of aphids, earwigs, spiders, mealy bugs, and fungus gnats. To head off these unwanted plant squatters, a couple of weeks prior to bringing your plants indoors spray them with my all natural “Home Harvest Bug Control”. Saturate the stems, foliage, and base of each plant with this organic spray. It not only kills unwanted pests, but also has a natural residual repellent effect.

Soil Insects Be Gone – We have flushed the soil, groomed plants for the move; our last challenge is with those worm-like insects that remain alive and well in the soil. Most of these insects will eat the roots off plants causing severe damage by late winter. A couple of days before making the move indoors be sure to apply “Systemic Houseplant Insect Control” to the soil in each container. Then lightly water each treated plant; this will release the granular insecticide, easily exterminating soil-loving insects.

A New Container – Now is the time to consider repotting. If container plants have been hard to keep watered, or the roots noticeably spiral around or bunch up in the pot, it is time to repot. But keep in mind that, contrary to popular belief, houseplants like to be slightly root bound. Too much soil causes plants to concentrate their energies on putting out new roots, thereby reducing blossom count and leaf formation. The most important consideration when repotting is to use a really good potting soil. At the Cottonwood farm I created a grower’s mix specifically for growing flowers and shrubs in containers. I’ve packaged this same soil for home gardeners and cleverly named it “Potting Soil”. Whatever the size of your gardening budget, always get the best potting medium possible because soil quality makes a huge difference to indoor plants.

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I think of “fall planting” not only as a true planting season, but also as an outdoor decorating season. Before long, our in-ground summer bloomers and perennials will be dead. However, with strategically placed flowers at the entrances of our homes and places of business, on our back patios, and in those containers wintering out of doors, we can grace our surroundings with colorful plants and blossoms. Our enjoyment of Thanksgiving, Christmas, welcoming the New Year, Valentine’s Day, and Easter will be enhanced by the spirit-lifting interest of varied colored plants.

As I’ve mentioned before, it’s important to get any of the winter bloomers planted ASAP so they have time to root and develop new growth before the bitter cold ahead. Local garden centers are fully stocked with winter bloomers: kale, dusty miller, Johnny-jump-ups, dianthus, snapdragons, mums, and, of course, pansies. Although why they are named pansies I’ll never understand; these are the toughest, cold loving, blossoming plants I know!

Until next week, I’ll see you at the garden center.

Throughout the week Ken Lain is at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Rd, Prescott, and can be contacted through his web site at www.wattersonline.com. See Ken’s personal gardens via Facebook at www.facebook.com/wattersgardencenter