Overwintering frost tender tropical plants

After procrastinating about it for years, last fall I chanced across the opportunity for overwintering some tropical (frost tender) plants. I have always put off doing this because I could never bring myself to purchase plants for my garden, deck or porch that would require more than minimal work.

Bringing plants inside for the winter seemed like too much work. I know, that sounds lazy, but my style of gardening favors perennials that can withstand our cold winters with minimal maintenance. That’s what my clients are looking for too, in fact low maintenance is their number one request.

Back to last fall. One of my gardening clients has a neighbour that is moving to a smaller home. My client suggested I look over the plants he was looking to donate to a good home. I assumed she meant the low maintenance perennials I referred to above, but instead found several bougainvillea and other tropical plants that he could not remember the name of. (Part of the reason he is moving is because he had a stroke and struggles to remember words)

As most were not blooming, I could not tell what they were. He did tell me he always moves them indoors for the winter. From that I was able to determine they are tropical or frost tender. I did recognize a few bougainvillea plants by the withered, hot pink blossoms that had fallen into their pots. If you are not familiar with bougainvillea, look at any touristy picture of Greece. It is the gorgeous pink flowered vine climbing the walls of many of their homes.

overwintering
bougainvillea

So, I loaded all of his offerings into the back of my van and brought them home. Some, including one bougainvillea and one mystery vine-like plant, are spending the winter in the sunny corners of my bedroom. All others are in my basement, near a window.

A word of warning if you try this. Shortly after you bring them inside their leaves dry up and fall off. No amount of watering can prevent this from happening. In fact, while overwintering these plants, watering should be minimal until all the old leaves have fallen off and new growth appears. This will prevent mold from forming on the soil and soil gnats from thriving in the pots. To deter both of these possibilities, I spray the soil of these plants as well as all of my house plants with a mixture of lemon and thyme regularly. You can help the overwintering process by gently removing any dead (brittle) leaves and stems, although this makes a bit of a mess…

overwintering
messy project

After that step, be patient and wait for new leaves to appear. They will come back! In the meantime, tie up any vines so they have support to climb on. I like using plant ties made of Velcro. Pictured below, they are gentle on plants, reusable, and easy to remove from the convenient roll they come on. Simply cut or rip off the size you need. These ties are also green, so camouflaged to blend into your stems and leaves. Nothing ruins the look of a beautiful plant than an unsightly support system.

This is the bougainvillea that currently has a prime spot in my bedroom, it is well on its way to recovery. I have watered this one more frequently than the rest of the plants I am overwintering because of its sunny location. No blossoms yet, but new leaves are sprouting daily…

overwintering
overwintered bougainvillea

My only dilemma now is waiting for spring. In our gardening zone I will not be able to move these plants outdoors until mid May. I am very anxious to see what these plants will look like on my sunny front veranda and back deck. I think the vivid pink blossoms of the bougainvillea will be spectacular against the white railings on the veranda. It should thrive in the hot, full sun conditions there too.

As soon as I figure out what the mystery plants are they will find a new home for the summer too, depending on their sun requirements.

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Offseason To Do List is Growing

Well, I pushed my garden season as far as possible……but my frozen fingers and toes convinced me to pack it up. Although I miss my garden business already (I’ve only been closed for the season for one week) I do admit there are (a few) good things about my offseason.  My to do list is the only thing growing these days.

offseason

 

‘Tis the season instead for tackling my to do list of things I don’t seem to have enough time for the rest of the year.  Some are fun, others not so much….

  • freelance writing
  • watching Ellen every morning for a good laugh
  • sleeping in, especially when the weather is bad.  Look out the window, roll over and fall back asleep!
  • baking, although that can be dangerous without all the exercise I get during gardening season
  • spending even more time with my grandchildren who are growing in leaps and bounds
  • preparing my tools (sharpening and cleaning) for next season
  • decluttering the gardening stuff in our garage

 

In reviewing a similar post from last year at this time,  I am proud to say I did accomplish lots of the items on that list, especially the sewing projects.  Can you tell I am a list person?  Of course, the things that did not get accomplished in that offseason will be added to this year’s list.

Isn’t this a dreary looking picture?  That’s the advertising on my van (or garden mobile as my son and his friends call it) being pelted by snow.  It sure makes miserable weather for gardening!

offseason

 

Enough procrastinating, back to my list!

 

 

The best things about fall

Fall is not my favourite time of year, in fact it is probably my least favourite season here in Canada.  (Almost) everything in my gardens is dying off and there is a distinct chill in the air hinting at the winter weather that is lurking around the corner.  There are a (measly) few things however that I do like about the season.  On my list of the best things about fall are…

  • warm, fuzzy sweaters
  • boots, especially the little, lightweight ones (booties) that go with every outfit
  • glorious splashes of orange, yellow and red provided by the leaves in the otherwise drab landscape
  • the roses in the gardens that just don’t want to give it up

 

 

What’s on your list?

FROST, isn’t it too early for that?

We have frost in the forecast for the Ottawa area tonight.  Isn’t it a bit early for that?  To me, it’s a nasty “f” word…

3:24 PM EDT Thursday 04 October 2018
Frost advisory in effect for:
Ottawa North – Kanata – Orléans
Ottawa South – Richmond – Metcalfe
Frost may damage some crops in frost-prone areas.

To us gardeners, that means our annual plants and crops will be dead tomorrow morning.  Fortunately, I have already moved any I wish to preserve inside.  Other than this one night of near freezing temperatures, the weather looks pretty mild for the next few weeks, meaning my gardening season isn’t over quite yet.

Perennials in pots

As an experiment this winter, I am planning to leave some (very) hardy perennials in their big pots on my back deck to see if any survive the winter.  I have planted perennials in containers before but never had much success with leaving them in their pots for the winter.  I have tried rose bushes and ornamental grasses but apparently they are not hardy enough.  The general rule of thumb is they should be at least two zones hardier than your area to survive in pots instead of in the garden.

So, this season I am trying shrub roses, (much hardier than bushes) false spirea, forsythia and lilac bushes, as well as a plum and a maple tree, all of which grow prolifically in my gardens.  With the exception of the plum tree that might be a bust, the others are reliably hardy for this area (zone 2).  The two mature plums trees in my gardens send up shoots all over the yard so I won’t feel so bad if the one in the pot does not survive.  These subjects of my experiment have all been grown from cuttings in my ICU...

Anything else currently in pots that I wish to save must be brought in for the winter.  This year that will include a beautiful non-hardy ornamental grass that was extremely expensive, too much so to replace each year…

perennials

 

I will keep you posted on their survival rate!

Sunflower season is here

One of the best things about fall (autumn) is the glorious sunflowers that seem to sprout up so quickly this time of year.  Fall is probably my least favourite season, with spring being favourite, but I do like the cheerful sunflowers.  This past spring I planted a variety of sunflower seeds with my grandchildren.  Some in pots on the back deck and a few in my front garden…

 

Mahogany Splendor Hibiscus, poor man’s Japanese Maple

These spectacular Mahogany Splendor Hibiscus are annuals in my zone 4 to 5 area of Ottawa, but wow, are they gorgeous.  Unlike the colorful hibiscus I posted about recently, these do not have spectacular flowers, but their foliage makes up for that fact.  A few Mahogany Splendor hibiscus were added to the gardens at the hospice I helped plant recently to fill in the bare spots and add color between the immature perennials.  As a result of the diligent watering by the hospice garden team throughout our extremely hot summer these hibiscus (and the rest of the gardens) look spectacular.

mahogany splendor hibiscusmahogany splendor hibiscusmahogany splendor hibiscus

They look much like a Japanese Maple, but are shorter, with the same deep burgundy color and same maple leaf shaped leaves.  Japanese Maples are notoriously expense around here, so these Mahogany Splendor hibiscus have been nicknamed “the poor man’s Japanese Maple”

They are so gorgeous in fact, that I plan to dig them up and bring them inside for the winter so I can put them back in the garden next spring.

Asters, butterflies and bees, oh my!

Tis the season for asters, butterflies and bees in our zone 4 gardens here in Ottawa.  I am seeing lots in my GARDENS4U clients’ as well as my own gardens. These perennials make a beautiful splash of color in the fall when others have finished showing off.  Growing up to five feet tall, and preferring full sun conditions, their upright, strong stalks are covered in bright green foliage and small pink or purple flowers that the butterflies and bees just love…

 

Asters, butterflies and bees asters, butterflies and bees asters, butterflies and bees

 

Asters are easy to grow, and require little to no maintenance. I cut mine back after flowering, but this is not necessary. They also seem immune to bugs and disease.  If your gardens are lacking color this time of year, consider adding some asters.  The butterflies and bees will thank you!

Hardy Hibiscus Show Stoppers

Hardy hibiscus are my show stoppers in my GARDENS4U gardens this August and September.  Their unbelievably vibrant blooms, often the size of a dinner plate, will literally make you stop and gawk at their incredible beauty…

 

I love the hibiscus so much this season that I tried some in containers and fertilized them heavily to keep them blooming all summer…

As with any plants you expect to be perennial (they come back each year) read the labels before you purchase them!  These hibiscus are called hardy because they are considered perennials in more (colder) areas than their less hardy cousins.  These are hardy to USA zone 4, which are perfect for my Ottawa gardens.  Just be careful and patient in the spring, as they are slow to recover from their winter hibernation.  Because they die back to the ground in winter here, I put a marker near mine so I don’t inadvertently disturb or throw it out during spring cleanup.

Another important fact to consider is that perennials planted in containers are less hardy (2 zones) than when they are planted in the garden.  For example, although these hibiscus are hardy to zone 4 when planted in gardens, they would only be hardy to zone 6 in containers.  That means I will be moving these gorgeous containers inside before the first frost.

Blue grass beauties

My new favourite ornamental grasses these days are the blue tinged beauties.  Every year there are more and more ornamental grasses available to choose from in the garden nurseries, but my eyes seem to be increasingly drawn to the blue grass varieties.  I love the way the soft, steely, blue hue compliments the color of other perennials.  While other ornamental grasses are grown for their attractive seed heads, the blue versions are chosen more for their attractive coloring.

These are blue oat grass, one of my favourites…

 

This is a newer variety, called Blue Lyme Grass…

blue lyme grass

Most ornamental grasses like full sun, but there are a few that tolerate some shade.  Be sure to check the labels before purchasing for sun requirements and hardiness zones.