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Monday, February 22, 2016

Winter Gardening

by Christine Freeburn

When the dark days of winter are upon us, we gardeners yearn for ways to explore our passion. We devour gardening books and seed catalogues.We look at photographs of beautiful gardens and dream about the coming season. And some of us continue to garden indoors with houseplants. If that is not enough for you, why not try to over winter some of those annuals you enjoyed through the summer months.

Pelagonium x hortorum or annual geraniums are available in many different coloured flowers and some interesting leaf variations. You can have success with over wintering these annuals a few different ways. When the cooler evenings begin in September, slip some stems off your favourite geraniums, let the base dry out slightly, then plant in a small pot of good potting soil and set in a bright window. Stem cuttings should be taken just below a bud joint. Do not over water, but keep the soil slightly moist. Keep plants away from any direct heat. As your geranium continues to grow, you can prune it back to keep a nice shape and if you fertilize it, you may even get some winter blooms. When late spring arrives and frost warnings are over, you have an established plant to put in the garden or container.

Another method for over wintering geraniums is to pull the entire plant out of the dirt and stuff it into an onion bag to hang in a cool dark place. This is generally done sometime in late September or early October, removing any blossoms that are still on the plant, but leaving the leaves on. I have even had success with a stem that I ripped off a huge plant. It had green growth and a few leaves coming just like the rooted plants. After labeling the bags, hang them where it is cool and dim. By February, check on the plants, and you should see that they are sprouting leaves. Gently remove the plant from the bag, and cut slips about 4” to 6” long where there is green growth. Get some pots ready with potting soil or you can even use cell paks. Remember to label, so you know which colour has survived. Success rates vary year to year and will depend on the health of the plant when you dug it up and your storage space being cool enough with just enough light. You can also pot up the mother plant after you have cut it back. Be sure to leave some green on it and try to shape it so it will grow uniform without stems crossing over each other. Moisten your soil, but keep the plants out of direct sunlight for a few days until they get used to the brighter light. Gradually move them into a bright window or under lights.

Any ivy that you have growing in containers outside is easy to over winter. Take slips, stick in water until roots form, then pot up and put in a bright window. English Ivy (Hedera helix var. baltica), German Ivy (Delairea odorata), and Swedish Ivy (Plectranthus verticillatus) are all easily rooted and can fill up an outside planter with great green textures. You can slip these from your houseplants in March or April and pot up when roots have grown.

It is recommended to spray any plants you bring indoors with a safers soap, so you are not bringing in any garden pests. There is nothing worse than wiping out your entire indoor plant collection because you harboured those little bugs from fall into the winter months.

In late spring, you will need to harden off any plants you have over wintered inside before putting in your containers. To harden off, set your plants outside, out of wind and direct sunlight for a few hours each day when temperatures have warmed. Continue to bring inside overnight until evenings are temperate and frost is over. Over wintering plants that you can pop into gardens or containers can be very satisfying and leave you extra cash to purchase more exotic flowers.

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