Clean off containers or re-pot them when bringing in plants for the winter.
Spring Promise is the only mountain-hardy camellia and is available only in autumn.
The Mountain Gardener
If you want to salvage some of your outdoor container perennials, bring them inside right away. Making this move takes time and energy, but with just a little planning, your plants will provide winter-long enjoyment indoors, thrive in good health, and be ready for their move back to the patio come spring. Here are the simple actions that will get your container plants ready to "winter over" successfully:
The big cut - This is the time to give these plants their fall haircuts. Prune off dead flowers, yellowed leaves, and anything else you consider unsightly. With a few more snips give shape and balance to the remaining foliage. This cosmetic touch-up allows for maximum air circulation that reduces debilitating bacterial and fungal growths. This is not a buzz cut, only a trim; so leave on lots of the green leaves.
Give them the big flush - Our local water contains a good deal of salt and minerals that build up in the soil and on the containers. Flush each plant with at least a gallon of water until the water is flowing freely from the bottom of the container. Another goal of this more than generous watering is to drown and flush away unwanted insects living in the soil, so ... flush, flush, flush!
A clean affair - Take this opportunity to clean up the outsides of the containers. Wash and brush off mineral residue, debris and dirty spots that have collected on the pots. Spray dulled terra-cotta clay pots with cooking oil to restore their vibrancy. Less than pristine containers are common and acceptable on a patio, but not welcomed in a living room.
Don't bug me - Bugs can be flushed out of the soil but the insects' eggs might remain and the warmer indoor temperatures will cause eggs to hatch right away, rewarding you with huge indoor colonies of aphids, earwigs, spiders, mealy bugs, and fungus gnats. To head off these unwanted plant squatters, spray them with all natural "Home Harvest" bug control. Saturate the stems, foliage and base of each plant with this organic spray. It not only kills unwanted pests, but has a natural residual repellent effect as well.
Soil insects gone - Having groomed the plants and flushed their soil, the next step is contending with those worm-like insects that remain alive and thriving in the soil. Most of these insects will eat the roots off plants causing severe damage by late winter. A couple of days before making the move indoors be sure to apply Bonide's "Systemic Houseplant Insect Control" to each container. Then lightly water each treated plant; this will release the granular insecticide, easily exterminating soil-loving insects.
A new container - Finally, it is the time to consider repotting. If plants have been hard to keep watered, or the roots noticeably spiral around or bunch up in the pot, it is time to repot. Keep in mind that new -pot, or same-pot, plants always appreciate some fresh potting soil.
Spring's Promise camellia: This spectacular blooming plant is only found at garden centers for the fall planting season. It is the only mountain-hardy camellia and, unfortunately, supplies are very limited. Already, on these early bloomers in stock, the buds are huge. This variety, with its dark evergreen foliage and vivid 3-inch flowers that seem to swallow the plant, deserves center stage placement in any landscape. If you have tried to grow camellias in our area but have been frustrated by the wimpy tropical varieties, try Spring's Promise for sure success.
Because our in-ground summer bloomers and perennials soon will be dead or unsightly, I think of this time not only as the fall planting season, but also as an outdoor decorating season. With strategically placed flowers at the entrances of our places of business and homes, on our back patios, and in those containers wintering out-of-doors, we can grace our surroundings with colorful plants and blossoms. The spirit-lifting effects of a variety of colored plants will enhance our enjoyment of Thanksgiving, Christmas, welcoming the New Year, and celebrating Valentine's Day and Easter.
It's important to get any of the winter bloomers planted ASAP so they have time to root and develop new growth before the bitter cold of January. Local garden centers are fully stocked with winter bloomers: kale, dusty miller, johnny-jump-ups, dianthus, snapdragons, mums, and, of course, pansies. Although why they are named pansies, I'll never understand; these are the toughest, cold-loving, blossoming plants I know!
Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.
Throughout the week, Ken Lain is at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Road, Prescott, and can be contacted through www.wattersonline.com.