That first loud clap of thunder before dawn last Friday morning awakened me. I love listening to thunderstorms from the protection of my cozy, dry place. I lay contentedly listening to the beating of what I thought was rain interspersed with the rumbling and bangs of the storm. I’ve been conditioned to associate storms with gardens and so I was visualizing my plants enjoying a delicious drink.
When I finally rolled out of bed and looked out the window to see the ice/snow/sleet/hail combination covering my lawn, my feeling went from pretty good to downright smug. “For once,” I thought, “I won’t have to slog through mud, wet and cold fingers to drag my outdoor containers into the greenhouse to winter over. Wahoo! Yay, me!”
I would love to take credit for having great foresight in getting after the job early, but that would be a lie. The truth is, I had a bit of time last week and knew that I wouldn’t have much time in the next couple of weeks. The pots were looking pretty good for the most part and as a born procrastinator, I debated whether to move them now or not. I even went so far as to check the calendar against the “average” date of last frost before I decided to do it.
I hadn’t paid attention to the weather forecast, but the days were becoming chilly, so the day before the storm I had winterized my swamp cooler and with my daughter’s help had brought some of my garden container plantings into my greenhouse.
Although I also have vegetables growing in pots, they will have to fend for themselves through the weather changes. It’s not worth the trouble to bring them in. This response is pretty typical. The vegetables grown outdoors are used to full sun and long days. They don’t adapt well to indoor conditions — at least in my greenhouse.
Against my better judgment, I brought a potted tomato into the greenhouse a few years ago. The tomatoes that were on it ripened but the plant declined quickly, dropped leaves all over the floor and bugs proliferated in the warmth of the shelter. At the same time, the tomatoes I gathered green and brought indoors to ripen on trays ripened at the same rate as those in the plant and were just as tasty. It’s better to cover them through the first few frosts because most often the weather will warm again, and they will continue to develop and grow for a while.
In reality, if I want vegetables indoors I should plant them in the greenhouse. However, the greenhouse has passive heat. The sunshine during the daytime hours warms the brick of our house and the cement and stone floors and they relinquish that heat during the nighttime hours. My flowers will survive, and some like the geraniums will probably bloom during the winter, but they won’t necessarily thrive until spring comes. That suits my purpose.
Keeping them from year to year is a combination of skill and of good luck. Sometimes you can practically neglect them and they flourish while other times you give it your best effort to no avail.
For those with the inclination to do so, the good news is that you can still move plnts indoors and save summer bulbs after the weather gets cold. it is not too late to move plants indoors and save summer bulbs and tubers for next spring. The cold weather of the past week was spotty and it really only nipped the tops of some of the plants. Others weren’t damaged. It isn’t too late to make the effort to save some of your garden plants through the winter. There are several options.
Some plants are simple to deal with. If you have geraniums in containers, for example just bring them inside and put them in a sunny place. You may remember the geraniums that lined the window sills of your elementary school classroom. They do well indoors.
Some gardeners clip cuttings from such plants and root them in new pots. To do this, fill a flat or pots with a lightweight potting or seed starter soil mix. Clip sections of the geraniums from the tips of the stems of mother plants. Remove flowers or buds from the cuttings.
Some people dip the cut ends of the stems into a commercial rooting compound and then place them in the soil. Others leave out the step of dipping into rooting compound with good success. Keep the soil moist – not wet. Calluses will begin to develop along the buried portion of the stems and these calluses will begin to grow into roots over time.
Summer “bulbs” (actually tubers) such as cannas and dahlias can also be saved. Simply move potted versions into the greenhouse as I did. Cut off the tops of the plants whether or not they are frozen and do not water the plants through the winter months. The soil will dry out and protect the plants. When you are ready to start growing them again for the summer months, you can just start watering them again if they have plenty of room in the pots. Most often the cannas have expanded and developed through the summer months and they will need to be divided. Dahlias, too benefit from division.
A more traditional way to save such summer tubers is to remove them from the pots this fall, cut off the tops and put them away in a container until spring. The tubers should not remain too moist or become too dry. Line a large container with a large plastic bag or use an airtight container and layer the tubers with peatmoss, sawdust or wood shavings. Moisten the storage compound (not wet) and close the top of the bag or cover the pot tightly with plastic. Sometime during the winter open the bag and check the contents. If the packing material has become too moist, leave the top open and allow it to evaporate. If it is too dry, place a container of water upright near the top in the container and close it back up. As the moisture evaporates from the container it will help humidify the inside.
Some people like to divide the tubers prior to storing them in an effort to save space, while others wait until spring to divide them.
In either case, break the tubers into sections making sure to leave a bud or two on each piece to form roots and develop into another plant. Most people like to start the plants prior to the last frost of winter to give them a head start when warm weather arrives. To facilitate that, place the tuber into a pot of potting soil and cover well. Water and give the plant sunshine to get it growing. Transplant outdoors when danger of frost is past.
Corms that are not cold-hardy, such as those that produce gladiolas are handled a bit differently. Simply dig them after the top dies or freezes back. The original corm that you planted last year will have shriveled and/or died. However, new ones grow from the old one. Divide them keeping the healthy, larger ones. Discard smaller, less developed corms or any that show signs of rot or disease. Place the saved corms by placing them in a mesh bag or similar container that allows the air to circulate around them. Put them in a cool, dry place and then plant them when the weather permits in the spring.