Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
September, 2008
Regional Report

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This tuberous begonia is a good container plant to overwinter indoors.

Bringing Plants Indoors

Autumn is a time to savor what's thriving outdoors, but also to make plans for the continuation of the garden indoors with annual flowers and herbs. You can add life and color to a bright, sunny windowsill in the kitchen, or maybe you're lucky enough to have a sunroom or greenhouse.

There are some basic growing conditions common to both outdoor and indoor gardening. These are light, soil, moisture, and temperature. For the indoor garden, add another element: the size and type of containers.

Many outdoor annual flowers and herbs need a lot of light to flourish. Now that the days are shorter, you can detect a decline in plant growth and flowering. Shorter days signal many annuals to wrap up the season and produce seeds. So if you are planning to keep some of the colorful annuals, prepare them now.

If you're like me and have to rely on windowsills and tables to accommodate your indoor plants, give serious consideration to your plant selection. Those annual flowers that grow in low light or in shady conditions are going to be the best candidates for indoor growing this winter.

Among my favorites to keep are those that will continue to bloom, that are relatively pest-free, and that can survive the drier air of the home. Since my begonias have been doing so nicely, except for a few earwig issues, I will ready these plants for their fall and winter quarters in the house. If you have some favorite colorful coleus, give thought to saving them or taking some cuttings and starting smaller plants.

Keep in mind that in the outdoor garden the soil was a dynamic ecosystem. When you pot up annuals and use a sterile potting mixture, the conditions are changed and the plants will have to slowly adapt. While potting mixes are great to get the plants off to a good start, they must be amended with nutrients to sustain the life of annuals and herbs. Just don't overfertilize with each watering as this will surely build up the soluble salt levels in the containers and lead to the demise of the plants.

The warmer you keep your house in fall and winter, the less likely your outdoor guests will survive. Indoor heat dries out the air more rapidly, and its warmth increases water evaporation. Keep plants away from heating vents, which will dry them more rapidly and can increase pest problems. That's why sunny windowsills are my favorite places for many of the outdoor annuals. The plants will receive the most available light in the house, and because they are next to a window, they are located in one of the cooler spots.

The pot that holds your plant guest should be such that it provides similar conditions to those that the plant enjoyed outdoors. So, if your plant is a deep-rooted species, you will need a taller, though not necessarily wide, container. Spreading, shallow-rooted plants can be grown in wider, shallow containers. Be sure to have holes at the bottom or sides of the pots for proper drainage.

One very important final reminder: give the plants you want to save a good bathing before you bring them inside. If needed, a light spray of insecticidal soap solution will get rid of pests that are hiding in the leaf folds or other tight areas.

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