After our days of near one hundred degrees, it is time to think about fall.  The spiders will give us a hint of winter protection.  If you pick up a pot with a projection or a space or that has been sitting on a pedestal you will find a soft little cotton balls of eggs. These are spider eggs and the spiders usually do not survive the winter, but the “kids” are safe.

          It has been known to freeze in early September in Southeast and South Central Nebraska, and it takes awhile to get those house plants ready so I start the last part of August.  Even a South window will seem like darkness to a plant that has been in full sun, so I carry them to a shady area to remove dead leaves, branches that are too long, and to check their roots to see if they are crowded and need more space.  Also, here they can adjust to less light for a few days.

          If the roots have filled the pot, I either remove some or slash them down 2 sides and across the bottom before I give them a larger pot. The ones that need to go back in the same pot can have part of their upper growth trimmed off with a corresponding amount of roots removed. These will need to adjust in the shade for several days.

          I do not use soil from the yard to fill in the extra space in the new pot as it might contain weed seeds, fungous spores or disease, and if its clay, will harden or shrink and thus make it hard for roots to penetrate.  I do keep potting soil on hand or compost for this.  Many potting “soils” do not contain any soil.

           Washing is usually the first step. I have a “gun” attached to the hose and use as strong a force as possible without hurting the plant. Wash from underneath upward as well as from above. The cups on the Bromeliads need to be emptied and washed out as much has been blown in during the summer.  After the houseplants have drained, I usually put a systemic insecticide on the top of the soil in order to take care of the insects that will  hatch from the eggs in soil, as well as a long lasting fertilizer, and water them in.  For some of them this is the only fertilizer they may get until spring.  A fertilizer like a slow release 10-10-10 or Osmocote will slowly release “food” for several months. Slowed down by less light, most plants shouldn’t have much stimulation by fertilizer until the days start getting longer in spring.

          In order to save window space I will take small cuttings from the tired looking or the plants that are too big. These cuttings are planted under a “tent” of a plastic bag plus sticks to keep it upright. These go into a semi-shady place.  Generally I make at least 2 to 5 times the number of plants I actually want, to insure that I get a “good” one.  After a week or more, one can check rooting by gently pulling up on the new plant.  The rooted ones will be fastened down and ready to put in a brighter light. Cuttings started in water usually have very week roots so I start mine in a light planting mix.

          Drowning is the major cause of death in house plants.  All of my plants will have saucers under the pot, so I water until it shows in the saucer. There should be about a 20 minute time limit of standing water in the saucer before you dump it. If a plant has dried so much that the soil has pulled away from the side, the plant and the pot needs to be placed in a pond, a pan, or a bucket and let stand for some time for the water to penetrate the entire soil ball. 

          My Cactus plants are potted and spend the winter in the insulated garage. During this time (October to April ) they do not need to be watered at all. Several other plants are in the garage. The Bougainvillea and the Angel Trumpets will drop their leaves and wait for spring. These I usually water once a month so the roots cannot completely dry. 

          Clivia likes to be placed in a cold (but not freezing) location and kept dry so the roots do not rot. It will then send up a bloom stalk where you can see it. Start watering after the bloom stalk is up. They will bloom down inside the leaves if it is watered and in a warm location during the winter. Clivia do better in a clay pot, and they should remain in the same pot until the plant cracks the side of the pot. I usually water this about once a month.

          Christmas Cactus need to be outside as long as possible without freezing with very little water in order to start buds forming. They seem to bloom better after a cold but not freezing shock. While blooming they need damp soil. 

          Once your plants are in the house, a number of “things” are necessary. If the furnace or air conditioner is running, they absorb water from your plants and some plants use much more water than others.  Bromeliads may not need any for as long as 2 weeks while my little Orange Tree and the Powderpuff plant may need water every other day.

          Watch for bugs!!! No matter how careful you are, suddenly they will appear.  White flies, mealy bugs and scale seem to get in. Inspect and treat before bringing them in. Take care of your plants before and after bringing them in!!!

          White flies can become a major pest very fast in the house.  Therefore, I put a systemic in the soil when I first bring them to their shady place after the washing is finished. Some systemic insecticides can stink but the new systemic with imadicloprid (Merit) is not too bad. However, the smell will be gone by the time you get them in the house.  It takes several days for the systemic to dissolve into the soil and be picked up by the roots and carried through the plant to the stem and leaves for the “enemy” to feed on. Never use a systemic in the soil of a plant you may eat or its fruit.

          Scale are another of my worst pests.  The young are very tiny and get set up before you notice. They look like brown, scaly bumps you can scrape off. Their backs are like umbrellas that shed off any spray. The young scale can crawl to find a permanent place to insert their mouth parts, and then their legs will disappear.  You will need to pick them off by hand by this time or use a soft brush with soapy water. Insecticidal soap will get the crawlers before they develop their umbrella.

          Mealy bugs are waiting in the spaces available or under the leaves. I use cotton swabs dipped in rubbing alcohol to loosen any. My Clivia seems to be their favorite down in the deep spaces between the long leaves that are so close together.  Luckily their white, fuzzy body is easy to spot and they can’t move fast enough to get away.

Copyright 2010