Beryl Harris

Half way through October my houseplants were still enjoying their vacation outdoors. At night I pulled them on to my covered porch waiting for the frost to strike. I kept watering, and picking off yellowing and dead leaves. If I bring them straight inside from that lovely bright sunshine, they sulk, drop leaves, or at least the leaves will turn yellow. I also check for pests, worms and other foreign delights that try to come inside for the winter.

Scrub your pots thoroughly and give your plants a thorough spraying with an environmentally friendly insecticidal soap (or just dish soap diluted 1 part in 40 parts water), making sure that you reach the undersides as well as the tops of the leaves. Any repotting that is needed should really wait until spring.

Early September is the time to give them any pruning they need in order to define their shape, and make them smaller for the house. They then will have a chance to recover by the time you bring them in.

Our houses are very dry in the winter. A tray of coarse gravel filled with water that your pots can sit on without actually touching the water will provide them with increased humidity they need.

I fertilize all my houseplants every time I water, using only a quarter the strength that is suggested on the label of the fertilizer. Something with a high middle number is good – say 12-36-14. I also like the fish fertilizers, I use even less for it takes a while for the “fragrance” to dissipate.

I pot up and bring in wax begonias, impatiens, and even volunteer seedlings in the middle of September. Even when they wilt from transplanting they will perk up and the buds will continue to open – especially if you spray the foliage. It is the dryness that makes buds drop.

Geraniums are different. I just bring in the containers full, put them in a cool dark basement to wait until spring. Geraniums that have been growing in the garden, I pull out, put in a bushel basket. I have crammed as many as over a hundred plants (I get the neighbors plants too) into one basket, with the earth, and put the whole thing in the basement. I keep an eye on them and do not let them dry out totally. After about six weeks, I remove the dead, yellow and weak leaves. At that time I make sure that they are not totally drying out. Around the end of February or early March, I bring them up into the light, weed out the weak ones, pot up the rest into individual pots, put them on a bright window ledge.

I have an assortment of plants that are so very special to me. I have a passion plant, orange and bell shaped; the Jasmine that Deborah gave me several years ago; a Plumbago from Elyn etc. You too will have these treasures. I scrub the pots well, then put some diluted dishwashing soap on the top of the soil, put a hose into the container and let it run and run, until the plant is not only soaked, but hopefully most of the nasties have been washed away. They have been placed away from the bright light and are ready to come indoors. These plants will be going into the basement under grow lights, for although they will drop their leaves and go somewhat dormant, I have found that they appreciate a few hours of light each day.

African Violets demand regular care, protesting when they are not comfortable. I had some in the south window, where they thrived through the summer (shade was provided by a large tree). When the weather turned cold they seemed to “hug” the sides of the pot so I put a foil strip around the top of the pot to help straighten out the leaves again and moved them to a warmer position. Under poor light conditions they grow elongated with up-reaching leaves, as well as thick stems. We think of them as shade loving indoor plants. This is not true because from October to around early April they will flourish in full sun. In May, you must move them back from the glare of the window.

African Violets prefer their soil to be kept barely moist, neither sopping wet nor bone dry. Those of you on city water must draw the water at least 24 hours ahead of usage, to let the chlorine dissipate and you should always water your plants with water at room temperature. When the weather is dull, take great care not to over water your plants. African Violets crave humidity. Set them on pebble trays, keeping an eye on the level of water, not letting the pots touch or stand in the water. If your plants are sitting in saucers, be sure to empty the saucers after about ten minutes, otherwise you will end up with crown rot.

Inevitably bare unsightly “necks’ do occur in older African Violets, if you continue to remove the outer leaves. Knock the plant from the pot. Either slice or cut off the roots so that it fits back into the pot low enough for the bare neck to be covered in soil. If you are getting multiple crowns, keep an eye on them and when you first spot them developing just nip them off, if you want more flowers, not more plants and foliage. To promote shapely plants, especially if you are planning to put them on the show table, give them a quarter turn two or three times a week, that is the plants that you have in the windows. Those under lights do not need this treatment, thank goodness, but they do need more food and water.

When you are bringing in your plants, take the time to dig up a little oregano and some mint, plant a few basil seeds now, of course do not forget your rosemary – you can grow them all on a sunny window sill and you will have herbs to flavour your food all winter.