Shorter days and the arrival of cooler temperatures should have many of us gardeners scurrying around getting ready for winter.
Now is the time to bring herbs, tender perennials and tropical indoors and to insulate outdoor containers. With frost on the way, the tropical – hibiscus, bougainvillea, heliotrope, fuchsia and even the classic annuals (geranium, coleus, impatiens and begonias) migrate indoors.
Now is the time to bring your plants indoors while the temperature inside and outside are close to being the same. If we wait too long the frost may kill them off when we are not looking. Bright south facing or west facing window have the right conditions for herb survival. Bring in bay and rosemary before the first frost.
Not all herbs require warmer temperatures. Mint, chives and tarragon not only survive the winter in insulated pots they need frost to grow well next year.
Now comes the hard part. Before bringing them in, cut back plants to one-quarter of their original length, flowers and all. Ensure that no bugs hitchhike indoors with the plants by watering the pots until water pours out through the bottom.
Bugs lurk on the underside of leaves, so remember to spray both sides of the leaves before bringing your plants indoors, they should be sprayed with a natural product such as Neem Oil or Insecticidal Soap. This will prevent harm from any destructive insects. Neem Oil is derived from the Neem tree; although often sold as a plant shine, it will also deter common insects such as Spider Mites and Aphids.
It is important to acclimatize your plants. Bringing a plant inside gradually will avoid shock, and increase its chances for success. If the plant is in full sun outside, move it to a shady area for about a week. Bring your plant in at night and put it outdoors during the warm fall days. As our daylight hours begin to decrease, it is important to provide your tropical plants with as much light as possible. Choose a place inside near a window or patio door with Southern exposure if possible.
Because of space limitations, bringing in pots may not be a viable option. Cuttings, which take less room, offer an alternative for saving your favorite plants. Take cuttings from the healthiest plants and root the stems indoors. By spring, the cuttings will have developed into container-ready plants.
Not all pots are made equal. Ceramic and terra cotta pots, which crack at the first sign of frost, should be emptied and stored upside down in a sheltered spot. Tough frost-resistant containers are a must for over-wintering perennials, and some small shrubs, as well as for fall and winter displays. There are plenty of choices, including metal, stone, wood, plastic, fibreglass or good quality plastic resin pots. Shoots are more cold hardy than their roots. For example, Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) grown in the ground can survive -20C, whereas temperatures between -5 and -10C will kill its roots.
Since the ground and snow cover provides excellent insulation, you don’t need to worry about plants in garden beds. It’s a different story for container gardens; pots don’t provide as much protection to sensitive roots. So, perennials, shrubs and trees over-wintering in pots on balconies require extra insulation from late October to April.
Insulating pots needn’t be expensive. Consider recycling newspapers. Crush newspapers into enough balls to fill a plastic bag. Then tie or tape the plastic bag around the pot. Bungee cords also work well. Besides newspaper, other more conventional insulation material includes Styrofoam slabs or bubble wrap.
Cluster the pots together in a wind-sheltered, shady spot. Surround the more tender plants with hardier specimens. Cover with a layer of leaves or straw. Autumn isn’t only about protecting plants; it’s also a time to create dazzling fall containers and plant spring bulbs.
Replace the summer annuals with fall bloomers, such as mums, asters, pansies, ornamental kale and heather. Later on, these containers can change into soothing winter displays of evergreen boughs, dogwood twigs and seed pods.
Fall is also the time to plant spring flowering bulbs – tulips, daffodils and crocuses – in large insulated containers. Keep the soil moist, not wet. Place the pots in a sheltered spot, away from the wind and sun. Then sit back and relax, knowing a colorful spring is guaranteed.
Do you find that you don’t have the time to take care of your plants yourself? Then you should take a look at our Plant and Shrub Maintenance experts.