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Fall is when Evelyn Schindler of Yankton decides what to do with a generous number of sun and shade container plants in her yard. While she has a sunroom indoors, space quickly becomes an issue when overwintering decades old potted cordylines that are not easily downsized for winter.
She pulls a rusted child’s wagon of potted succulents indoors. She had staged them in the wagon and moved easily around the yard as desired during the growing season. The wagon itself is décor. Slow growth is a feature of succulents she appreciates when conserving space indoors.
Evelyn takes some potted plants indoors. A few have been growing in small pots set a large container all season. “It’s easy to lift them out in the fall,” she said. “I have to watch these plants during the season though because soil in small pots may dry out [sooner than larger pots].”
She prunes potted Mandevilla vines back about one-third before bringing them inside. “I do let them grow some in winter so they will have some vine to start the new season.”
For potted plants brought directly indoors, “You want the plants pest-free when you bring them indoors. I wash the plants off several times with a hose, turning the plant upside down if possible,” she said. She does this particularly for spider mites that are common in this region. Sometimes gardeners also remove an inch or so of topsoil from the container and replace it with bagged potting soil to deter other soil-borne pests from outdoors.
Evelyn’s collection of ferns and fern-like plants such as button fern, bird’s nest fern and asparagus fern grow in their own containers. She overwinters them indoors. She has artillery fern that she uses for accents in containers with other plants. She takes cuttings of artillery fern and puts them in small pots under shop lights in her basement. Air temperature there is little cooler than the rest of the house.
Cannas are out-of-zone plants for this region, so the rhizomes planted in the flowerbed are usually dug up at this time. Evelyn plants her cannas in a container instead. “After a light frost I cut off the leaves and let the pot soil dry out. I put the cannas container in the basement for winter.”
One of her big decisions is what to save of the yards’ container annuals and other plants that will otherwise die from winter exposure. Most plants cannot survive winter in this region in a container because its roots are subjected to more fluctuating conditions than plants with roots in the ground.
She said that an exception is Irish moss that survived the winter in a container in her backyard. Another plant that she says comes back from winter exposure is annual baby’s breath. “Baby’s breath [dies] and re-seeds in the container.” Of course another way to preserve plants for next season is to collect seed from non-hybridized plants.
Cuttings conserve indoor space and enable gardeners to start next season with a compact size plant. Evelyn modifies a general method she uses for cuttings such as coleus, copper plant, passion vine, and tropical hibiscus. She grows cuttings in her cool basement under florescent shop lights.
For cuttings, she trims the stem to four to six inches, depending on the plant, with a set of leaves intact. She uses a pencil to make a hole in thoroughly moistened potting soil. In a small pot with drainage hole, she plants the stem. She mists water in a spray bottle onto the plant, soil, and inside of a plastic bag. She places the bag over the plant and rim of the small pot and secures plastic bag with a rubber band. This provides high air humidity and moist soil for plant as it grows roots. When plant begins to grow, she removes bag and waters soil as needed. As the plant grows during the winter she trims the plant above a leaf node to maintain its compact size under the light.
Evelyn prepares other containers for winter by removing plant material. An exception is when she finds a spent plant and can envision a creative use for it. She points to a leafless Japanese maple tree in a large container that died a year ago. “It’s my trellis for cypress vine and ivy,” she said.
Soil remains in her plant containers overwinter. She and her husband Albert move large containers to a corner of the backyard where soil-filled pots are stored under a tarp. To cut down the weight of some containers, Evelyn adds filler. “I save small plastic bottles such as for aspirin and put in the bottom third of a container. In a large container, plant roots go down only six to eight inches.”
Next spring when she removes the tarp from the containers, she’ll start the process again. “I take a little of the soil out of the pots and put in new soil and mix it together.”