Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
September, 2004
Regional Report

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Nature's way: This ladybug larva, dubbed an aphid lion, is feeding on aphids.

Protecting Patio Plants

If you have tender tropical plants on your patio and hope to save them for next year, this is the time to start preparing them for the big move indoors.

First of all, I like to leave mine outdoors as long as possible so they can soak up the sunshine and continue blooming. However, many tropicals are damaged by temperatures below about 45 degrees, so you need to plan ahead on how to protect them on chilly nights. I check the nighttime weather forecast, and when a colder night is predicted, I carry the plants into an unheated glass porch in the evening and set them back outside in the morning. Certainly this is time-consuming and messy, and it sure seems like the larger containers grow heavier every year.

Acclimating Plants for Indoors
Eventually, this process reaches the point of diminishing returns and so I set the pots in a sheltered, shady spot outdoors for a week or so (still protecting them on chilly nights.) This prepares them for the reduced light levels they will experience indoors and also gives me a chance to examine them with detailed scrutiny. This step is important because pests can hitch a ride inside; once indoors, those pests will cause serious grief later this winter. Under the favorable, protected, indoor conditions, an infestation quickly accelerates, becomes difficult to control, and can spread from just one initial case to infest many plants. What a nightmare.

I inspect the plants from head to toe for evidence of aphids, scale, spider mites, mealybugs, slugs, and anything else suspicious. Handpicking can help reduce the populations, as can a careful all-over rinsing with the garden hose twice a week. Next, I may employ commercially formulated insecticidal soap or possibly a light horticultural oil spray to make sure I am not importing any pests. If I suspect a plant may still harbor a residual pest or two, I will isolate it until I am sure the problem is eliminated -- or in the case of a stubborn infestation I may just dispose of the plant as a triage measure.

On a happier note, I also take the opportunity to liberate any sly toads or little peeper frogs who take shelter by burrowing into the potting mix or nestling into the foliage. More than once kitty and I have discovered one of these going hippity hoppity across the kitchen floor at midnight.

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