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Rescue your tender plants from the coming winter

September 30, 2018

Three tender plants I’m moving indoors for the winter came originally not from a garden center but from the produce department of the grocery store. There’s a pineapple plant started from the discarded top of a pineapple, plus a ginger and a turmeric started from dormant rhizomes.

The pineapple plant will be treated to bright light and light watering. I doubt that I’ll ever harvest a home-grown pineapple, but the plant is attractive nonetheless. And I admit to a feeling of satisfaction from successfully starting it (even though it took three tries to get a top to sprout).

As for the herbs, I’ll cut back on watering indoors and let both plants go dormant for winter. In time, there should be plenty of extra rhizomes to consume and to share.

This time of year I sometimes wish I had a greenhouse, so I could bring indoors all the beautiful tender plants without cutting them back. Nevertheless, I manage to save dozens of lantana, tropical hibiscus, duranta, passion vine, mandevilla, elephant’s ear, and other plants, simply by cutting back tops and roots to fit 6-inch pots. These plants I then crowd under several grow-light tubes in my basement. Some are now a quarter of a century old, with gnarly old trunks. But these old friends still show off again every summer when moved back to the garden.

There is no heavy lifting involved. I cut back the plants right in the garden and bring only small starts indoors to pot.

Taking 4- to 6-inch stem cuttings is all that’s necessary to save many other kinds of tender plants from the cold. Joseph’s coat, coleus, iresine, purple heart, plectranthus, and wandering Jew are a few cuttings which root readily in water and are then easily transplanted to small pots after roots form.

Rescuing tender plants from the coming winter saves the expense of replacing the plants every spring, of course. I also find winter easier to bear when I’m surrounded by plants.

Whatever plants you decide to bring indoors, don’t bring trouble inside with them. Hose off the foliage, top and bottom. Check stems and undersides of leaves for the brown or tan “bumps” of scale insects. Remove any found, using a cotton swab dipped in alcohol, then spray the plants with insecticidal soap.

As an added precaution, I put some yellow sticky traps around the plants after I move them indoors. The traps alert me when any whiteflies, aphids, or fungus gnats are present, so I can spray the plants with insecticidal soap early and thus keep a tiny problem from becoming a big headache.

If you bring a prized potted geranium indoors, take time to first repot it in fresh soil. Obnoxious budworms won’t survive a Midwest winter outdoors but may find safe haven if accidentally brought indoors in the soil.

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