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It’s time to move tender plants back inside

By   /   October 6, 2013  /   Be the first to comment

Begonias are among the tenderest of plants and should be brought in well before overnight temperatures drop into the 40s.

Begonias are among the tenderest of plants and should be brought in well before overnight temperatures drop into the 40s.

My back deck has been one of my favorite places in the garden this year. There are just enough potted plants displayed on it to be lush and interesting but not overly jungle-y. (Unlike the rest of my garden.) The angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia) loomed and bloomed in a corner and is about to bloom again. The array of house plants (begonias, jasmines, mistletoe fig and the like) on a bleacher-style plant stand looks like a living wall against the otherwise boring blank of the house. I love the color and texture contrasts in an assortment of ‘Wasabi’ coleus, dark red dwarf New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax ‘Jack Spratt’), echevaria, and golden creeping Jenny clustered in individual containers on the deck’s risers. And even as I write this, I’m entertained by hummingbirds visiting a big Fuchsia ‘Gartenmeister Bonstedt’ parked right under my window.
I don’t want to let go of the garden on my deck. Especially since the sun has lost its bite and I can finally kick back and drink my morning coffee out there without feeling scorched. All summer I have also enjoyed the spaciousness of a nearly plant-free living room. I left some token plants inside for their green (a house entirely devoid of plants feels weird to me) but most are out. Their shelves and tables have collected small stacks of books instead and the empty square-footage under the windows makes the room feel that much bigger.
Nevertheless, chilly nights have cued the start of the move back inside. For the tenderest of plants such as begonias, some ferns and citrus, it’s best done early anyhow. They’re less likely to sulk, become stressed or look like death if they’re not subjected to temperatures they hate. As for all the others that can take a chilly night on the chin but can’t survive a killing frost, they will be much happier if we bring them inside before closing all of the windows and turning on the heat. Give the poor things a chance to acclimate to their winter exile.
My natural inclination, because I love to be on and look out to a deck full of plants, is to wait to bring them inside until the very last minute. But because I’ve procrastinated in the past I know exactly how the frost-warning panic and subsequent backache feel. Not great. I also remember how messy a rushed move in can be. If I’m going to leave my houseplants outside longer I’d be smart to at least take the time to clean them up a bit. Over the summer they have accumulated debris, their own dead leaves and others’, as well as weeds and the occasional insect or spider. I like to think that the birds and other bugs take care of the pests on my houseplants but that’s not always the case as I discovered today. Two of the ferns that might have come inside before the latest dip into the 40s were still infested with scale, and I discovered that a pretty little Cape primrose (Streptocarpus) was harboring a legion of mealy bug. Even though those plants still look remarkably healthy I might leave them outside permanently rather than attack their dinner guests with my fingernails, soapy water, or any stronger pesticide. I have more plants than I need and better things to do.
In fact, I should use my time to clean plant saucers and clear all indoor surfaces and windowsills of books, clutter, and cats. If I were as ambitious as I imagine you are, I’d wash the windows too. I’m sure my plants and I would be happier in the darker seasons if light could enter the house unfiltered by pollen, dust, and cat snot. In the meantime though, I feel a magnetic pull back outside. It’s much too pretty a fall day to not spend it relaxing out on the deck, face to the sun, with a good book and a cuppa.

Kristin Green is the interpretive horticulturist at Blithewold Mansion, Gardens & Arboretum in Bristol, where she’s worked since 2003. Follow her garden blog at blog.blithewold.org.

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