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WHAT’S BLOOMIN’

Gardening column: Move houseplants in as winter nears

Friday, October 5, 2012 - 12:01 am

I couldn't resist peeking at the Farmers' Almanac to see what their predictions are for the winter months.

We won't comment on how they missed the mark many times this year, but then, it was a year filled with surprises — some that nearly took our breath away. For the coming winter months, they are predicting, “…that winter will return to some — but not all — areas. We think it will be a winter of contraries, as if Old Man Winter were cutting the country in half. The eastern half of the country will see plenty of cold and snow. The western half will experience relatively warm and dry conditions. We predict that real winter weather will return to areas from the Great Lakes into the Northeast. Most eastern states — as far south as the Gulf Coast — will see snowier-than-normal conditions and cooler temperatures.”

And with that bit of news to mull over and tuck away somewhere till we see if they are right, here are some tips for bringing houseplants inside for the winter:

•Many of you have probably already taken your plants inside since our nights are dropping down in the 40s. But if you haven't, it's time to do it now.

•Often at the end of a summer outside, plants need to be repotted. It is better to do this messy chore now outdoors instead of having to do it inside.

•Plants that have been outside during the summer often have had rapid growth and can become root bound. If this has happened to your plants, replant in a pot that is about a third larger than the previous one.

•Cut off about 1/3 of the root ball and gently loosen the very bottom of the remaining roots.

•Cover the bottom of the pot first with small stones or rock for drainage, then add a layer of sterile potting soil.

•Work a little slow-release fertilizer in the soil. This will last all winter.

•Set the root ball on the soil and finish filling till the root ball is covered. Water well, let drain, and top off the soil if needed.

•Whether you repot the plant or not, it is a good idea to check the upper growth for spider webs and any other resident insects and with the hose on a gentle setting, wash the plant and soil thoroughly and let it drain well.

•Spray with an insecticide, one that is safe for humans and pets, over and under the leaves and stems and the soil. I found one at Menard's called EcoSmart, an organic Home Pest Control spray in a 24-ounce spray bottle. It can be used inside and out and claims to be safe for use anywhere in the home, “including kitchens.” (I will be careful about using it around food, no matter what the label says.)

•After spraying, let the plant dry awhile before finally taking it inside. Using sterile soil and spraying with an insecticide should help you avoid the gnats and whiteflies most of us have experienced at one time or another.

•Your plant will just naturally drop some leaves after being taken inside — but that is because it needs to adjust to the indoor light and different atmosphere.

•Do not go for the watering can when this happens. Overwatering houseplants has made a lot of potentially good gardeners swear they have a black thumb and caused them to give up trying.

Ford is an Advanced Master Gardener. Email questions to jaf701@frontier.com. You also can read her What’s Bloomin’ blog at news-sentinel.com. This column is the writer’s opinion.