Tag Archives: winter care for tender plants

In Bloom for the Winter Solstice

A number of years back, one of the seed exchanges we belonged to listed Pycnostachys urticifolia, aka Blue Witch’s Hat. How cool, I thought, and with a common name like that, maybe it will be in fun bloom for Halloween! I clicked the “add to order” box without doing any more research.

The seed arrived and it was then that I sought the technical data:  Pycnostachys urticifolia has deep cobalt blue spires, with a noted bloom period of late fall into winter. It is not hardy here in southern New England…it winters over outdoors only in zones 9-10Blue Witches Hat grows quickly from seed and can flower the first year, with an eventual height of 4-5′. It is considered a shrub where it is hardy but its late blooming time hinders its sales potential  as a tender perennial in colder climates (which might explain why it’s seldom seen on plant lists). If you want to grow it on well you will need indoor space, either a greenhouse or a large sunroom, but what a treat it is to see its conical spires of intensely colored indigo blossoms on the shortest days of the year.

Lucky us, we have a greenhouse and now, at the Winter Solstice,  Pycnostachys provides us with lovely stems to add to a holiday bouquet of white variegated Boxwood and silvery Elk Horn Cedar cuttings.

Would you make room for this in your indoor winter space?

 

3 favorite plant shopping spots in San Diego County

Pyrostegia capensis, aka Flame Vine, enticing us to enter Solana Succulents Nursery.

For the past few years, we’ve been fortunate to travel and spend time in San Diego CA during January where our grandson Taylan lives with our son Phil and daughter-in-law Annique.  Each time we come out, we schedule visits to nurseries in search of new plants to bring back and grow in MA. 3 of our favorite stops are Solana Succulents in Solana Beach, Botanic Wonders and Kartuz Greenhouses in Vista.

A very old and bonsai-pruned Titanopsis

Solana Succulents is owned and operated by Jeff Moore, an author of several books on Aloes, Agaves as well as “soft succulents”, which is a phrase now used  to describe a wide variety of succulents that are less tolerant of cold temperatures than “hardy” selections, and are generally not prickly or spiny. Jeff always has a treasure trove on display, including hard to find little gems supplied by individual collectors. Solano Succulents carries fun and unique handmade pottery to showcase specimen succulents and bonsai, and has a particularly attractive feline greeter.

Solana Succulents’ official greeter.

Some or our stash from Solana Succulents.

Botanic Wonders display and selling greenhouse.

Al Klein and Anthony Neubauer of Botanic Wonders in Vista have created a mecca for those in search of rare succulents. Plants are especially well grown and displayed, with an emphasis on Cycads, Cacti, Aloe and Euphorbia. Botanic Wonders also carries some beautiful plant pottery created by local artists. We were especially  smitten with the vessels Susan Aach creates.

An amazing free form vessel created by potter Susan Aach.

Just had to score some of those amazing miniature Aloe at Botanic Wonders.

New to us, this trailing/prostrate Medinilla sedifolia just coming into bloom at Kartuz Greenhouse.

Kartuz Greenhouses is a tiny backyard operation that is a source for unusual tropical plants with an emphasis on Begonia and Gesneriads. Mike Kartuz, a Massachusetts transplant who settled in Vista in the late 1970’s, was a well known figure in the Begonia Society.  Sadly, we learned on this visit that Mike had passed away last summer (2022) at the age of 95. The business is continuing to operate and is run by the very knowledgable and capable Rosa. Rosa worked with Mike in the greenhouse for many years. We hope she continues propagating some truly collectable plants.

some of our finds from Kartuz: L to R Hibiscus splendens, Hoya obscura, Begonia ‘San Miguel’ and Begonia ‘Essie Hunt’. We also bought a number of  dormant plants, which are not photogenic at the moment.

We hope to find time in our final week for a few more nursery visits. Watch for a secondary post with more new acquisitions.

 

Amaryllis and their Aftercare

Amaryllis ‘Wedding Dance’

So you’ve purchased or were given a gorgeous Amaryllis, and you love it. Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) are fabulous winter bloomers from the southern hemisphere. There are many species and cultivars and they can be bold and showy or delicate and ethereal. The long lasting flowers can show off for several weeks, and top size bulbs can produce multiple stems.

Amaryllis ‘Evergreen’, with smaller spidery flowers

The big question is: What should you do with your Amaryllis after the holidays to keep these plants happy and encourage them to bloom in the future?  Here are some tips.

  1. When the last flowers fade, remove the flowering stem(s). Do not let seeds form, as this will draw strength from the bulb and may inhibit flowering.
  2. Leave the green strap-like foliage on the plant to provide nourishment to the bulb and continue to give it bright light. Once warm weather arrives, you can put your plants outdoors in a spot that gets morning sun. Water only as needed. Your bulbs should be in a well drained soil mix. Do not keep soil constantly wet.

    Be sure to leave the upper third of the bulb above the soil line when you pot up.

  3. In mid-late summer (August) introduce your plants to dormancy.  They need a 2-3 month period of darkness and cool 45-50F temperatures, and during this spell, withhold water.  This is the challenging part: some of us have basements that remain dark and cool, but most of us do not.  Another option is to use your refrigerator, and this is where a spare fridge is handy.  Place the potted Amaryllis inside, minus any dead foliage.  Or, unpot your Amaryllis bulb, cut off any greenery and place in a bag with some wood shavings or dry sterile potting soil and leave to chill for at least 6-8 weeks.  In mid-late October, remove your bulbs out of their chill cycle, pot them up using a well drained soil mix and water once. Move into a sunny warm spot and do not water again until you see signs of green shooting. Sometimes it takes awhile to wake up the bulbs. Bottom heat can help.

More tips:

4. The choicest varieties need to be purchased from reputable bulb vendors in the fall.  If you want blossoms in time for the December holidays, choose bulbs that have the distinction that they were grown in the southern hemisphere, rather than having been imported from northern regions such as the Netherlands. Give yourself 6- 8 weeks lead time.  Often, these southern hemisphere grown bulbs will be labeled specifically as “Christmas Amaryllis”. Bulbs imported from Northern Europe will still bloom this winter, but they take longer to come into flower. No worries…it’s still delightful to have them burst into bloom in midwinter!

5. After the big chill, be sure to pot up in a sterile, well drained potting mix with the top third of the bulb above the soil surface.  Use a pot that’s only 2-3″ wider than your bulb(s). You could plant multiple bulbs in a large pot for a dramatic display but pack tightly, and a large container will require ample space in a sunny spot to grow on. Remember Amaryllis bulbs do not mind being pot bound. It may be 3-4 years  before it is necessary to move up into bigger pots, and/or divide.

 

 

 

 

Houseplants’ Summer Vacation is Almost Over

Doesn’t it happen so suddenly? One week temperatures are in the 80’s with nights still mild, and then one morning you wake up to find that the overnight temperatures dropped below 50F.  If your tropical houseplants have spent the summer outdoors, this is your cue to start bringing them indoors.

First: Groom and Assess for Pests

Your Peperomia, Ferns and Snakeplants have probably put on nice growth over the summer, benefitting from the good air flow and more humidity. Now, as the days become both cooler and shorter,  your houseplants may begin to let go their oldest leaves. Groom and assess for pests. Pest problems that are minor outdoors become a bigger deal inside.

I find that there are often a few slugs or snails hanging out under the pots. Remove them. We began using a food grade diatomaceous earth to deter slugs on our container plants and recommend it. The teensy particles are sharp enough to inflict cuts on their bodies. It is advisable to wear a mask so as not to inhale the small particles when applying. Dust the soil and even the foliage if you notice that your leaves have been munched on. The diatomaceous earth also seems to deter other pests.

Be on the lookout for aphids on fresh new growth, whitefly on the leaf undersides and mealybugs in leaf/stem crevices. Sometimes a forceful spray with the hose can take care of things, but I recommend a follow up using a safe organic pesticide like Insecticidal Soap for aphids or a Neem Oil product  which can control not only aphids but whitefly, some mites, caterpillars and scale.  Use rubbing alcohol on a Q-tip to swab and kill mealybugs. (Inspecting regularly and catching the first signs of activity is the best defense; if you discover a plant has a bad mealy problem it is best to just ditch that plant).  Be sure to follow the instructions on the product label, and repeat at the recommended intervals as a preventative for any new hatching. Do isolate any problem plants. 

Hold back on the fertilizer

All plants will slow down in growth, so you may want to wait to repot any oversized plants until spring. Slow down on fertilizing unless you have  a plant that is a heavy fall or winter feeder.

Most succulents can take cooler nights than the tropicals, but don’t let them get bitten by a frost. For more info on succulent wintering over I’ve written  more extensively on this topic at  this blog post link.

 

Winter Prep for Tender Succulents

sucpotfall500_72As we advance into autumn, your succulent planters may look so beautiful that  you may want to wait until the last minute to protect your plants.

deconstruct1_succulent500It usually happens sometime in mid October in southeastern MA,  when a cloudless night will allow temperatures to drop into the low 30’s and a light frost nips unprotected tender plantings (yep, that’s what happened here). If a frost catches you by surprise, your plants may only have suffered slight foliage damage which can easily be trimmed off.

deconstruct2_succulent500Small containers can simply be moved inside, but you’re probably not going to want to move a big heavy pot. The only thing to do to preserve your plants in this case is to dismantle your planting. Carefully pry loose the root balls to get at the plants. (Thanks  Peter Tracey for acting as our model!)

deconstruct4_succulent500

Have a wheelbarrow nearby to transfer your unearthed roots.

deconstruct6_ssucculent500Prepare a very well drained planting medium suitable for succulents. We use a barky perennial mix with added perlite and coarse sand. It is important that your plants don’t spend the winter in soil which stays moist all the time. Try to transplant into pots that are just big enough to contain the root ball. (This will help keep the pots on the dry side and will not take up much space.)

deconstruct_succulents.onPlace your pots near the sunniest windows in your home. The days are getting shorter and low light levels may can cause your plants to stretch towards the window. Rotate your pots to compensate.  We water only when the pots are dry, and wait until late winter or early spring to fertilize.

See the Rehabbing Succulents Post for spring care.

Tips for Wintering Over Tender Plants

Echeveria 'Afterglow' with Aptenia cordata ,Foxtail Asparagus and Phormium 'Sundowner' in a 14" pot.

Echeveria ‘Afterglow’ with Aptenia cordata ,Foxtail Asparagus and Phormium ‘Sundowner’ in a 14″ pot.

Very soon, a frosty night will be threatening. If you haven’t already, now is the time to think about which tender plants you want to preserve for next year. You may have limited space and if you have collected a lot of plants, you will want to prioritize your selections. Here are links to recent blog posts on wintering over tender plants.

Wintering Over I: Taking Cuttings

Wintering Over Tender Perennials Indoors 

Wintering Over Roots of Tender Perennials

Wintering Over Succulents

Rehabbing Succulent Planters

sucbefore2

A succulent planter in mid April…ready for rehab.

Those of us who live in colder climates may be thinking it’s time to rehab last year’s tender succulent containers. Over the winter, these planters have been trying to soak up as much sun as possible on windowsills and in sunrooms, but it’s a sure thing that by mid spring many of your plants have become unbecomingly leggy. You have two options: disassemble the planter, plant by plant, then cut back and replant in fresh soil, or if the planter is not overcrowded or out of proportion, you can see if just trimming back is the answer.

succpot3w

3 weeks later….the plants in this pot have begun to flush with new growth

I’m encouraging you to be ruthless when you cut back. After cutting off their heads these plants won’t look happy immediately, but the alternative could become down right ugly. Any cuttings from pinching can be stuck in sand  and rooted for more plants. You may find that some of the spreading succulents have exceeded their bounds and need to be lifted and divided…. Use these little divisions to tuck in around the container where their are “plant gaps”. Fertilize your planter with a seaweed/fish emulsion. It will take a number of weeks and some warm sunny weather for your planters to start to perk up.

vertical.rehabb

After cutting back the creepers, replace with fresh cuttings to fill holes and balance the design of your vertical planter.

Vertical Succulent Gardens are often in need of cutting back and editing. We usually leave our vertical planters horizontal on benches during the winter, to minimize stretching.  Still some plants such as the rosettes of Sempervivum or Echeveria may have become overwhelmed by creeping Sedum and Delosperma, and need to be replaced. We take fresh cuttings and secure them in place with floral pins. Fertilize with seaweed/fish emulsion , keeping the wall planter flat while the new cuttings root in, and move outside as soon as nights  stay in the 50’s or above. In a few weeks, growth will begin to fill in the empty spaces, and then you can hang.

Vertical Garden ...3 weeks later

Vertical Garden 3 weeks later

 related posts…:

Wintering Over Tender Succulents

Growing Vertically

Wintering Over Non Hardy Plants

We’ve been asked recently if we had ever written a post on wintering over tender plants in cold climates. The answer is yes, we have, but it certainly would be convenient if we posted easy access links to the 3 articles for those who may have missed the postings or for those who want a quick refresher.

Taking Cuttings

Wintering Over Tender Perennials Indoors 

Wintering Over Roots of Tender Perennials

Wintering Over Succulents

 

A Dreaded Chore: Repotting an Agave

sad, sad Agave

I’ll confess. I had avoided repotting (for almost a year now) what had become one very sad looking Agave.  The older leaves had become brown and ugly, and obnoxious weeds had taken root. The piercing tips and teeth on the leaves looked ferocious, and I didn’t want to give blood. So there it sat, in a neglected corner, a woeful sight indeed.

As we were gathering all the tender plants to bring inside for the winter, it was time to make a choice about whether to save or toss the misbegotten Agave. A decision was made: yes, save it. A plant that has the will to carry on despite such neglect deserves not only respect; it deserves admiration. And as it turned out, grooming and repotting wasn’t a big deal after all. Here’s how we went about it:

The first thing to do is put on some protective gloves. Carefully remove the Agave from its pot, standing over a wheelbarrow or large receptacle to catch the debris. Tilt the plant so you can get at the base of the crown with your clippers and remove the dried up foliage. Next, loosen up the soil around the roots and remove any weeds that may have established, teasing out their roots so they won’t make a comeback.

Use a very well drained soil mix amended with sand and perlite, and if you have access to grit or gravel, add some too. (We don’t add fertilizer, since Agave are very light feeders. Instead, we liquid feed with fish emuslion/seaweed 2 or 3 times a year.) Position the Agave in the center of the pot, and then backfill. The repotting is accomplished, and we can now place the Agave in a spot where it merits attention.

carefully remove old leaves

loosening the roots

Agave, happier looking now

 

A Refresher: Wintering Over Plants

We’ve been asked recently if we had ever written a post on wintering over tender plants in cold climates. The answer is yes, we have, in the fall of 2010, but it certainly would be convenient if we posted easy access links to the 3 articles for those who may have missed the postings or for those who want a quick refesher.

Taking Cuttings

Wintering Over Tender Perennials Indoors 

Wintering Over Roots of Tender Perennials