So far, fall, 2009, has been frost-free and we still have time to get vulnerable plants pulled indoors. Houseplants that vacationed outside over the summer definitely want to be inside by now. Cacti and succulents that are not native have to be protected, too.
Not everything will fit into the house, garage, shed or small greenhouse and choices have to be made. Select only healthy plants to save. Diseased plants should be trashed, not composted.
Prepare plants by removing dead leaves and spraying them with insecticidal soap (a few drops of dishwashing detergent mixed into a gallon of room temperature water). Pots of herbs need to be well cleaned before bringing them into the kitchen.
Transplant garden plants into pots, using fresh potting soil. Dig around and down to get the main roots. Slide the shovel at an angle under the plant. Lift the root ball and place it into a pot that already has potting soil in the bottom. Water and add more soil if necessary. Rinse off the leaves.
Discard inexpensive annuals such as petunias, marigolds and zinnias. If they were grown in pots, the entire contents of the pot can be poured onto the compost. On the other hand, if your flowerbed could use extra soil, pour the pot onto the bed and shake the soil away from the roots. Then, put the green waste in the compost.
Patio, porch, and deck plants such as Boston ferns are a challenge to keep attractive unless they can be brought into the house near southern windows with filtered light. The fronds will probably dry out and drop but keep the plants moist and warm.
Geraniums can be saved. Prune the branches, place the potted plant in a west window and feed it. Geraniums can also be stored any place that will not freeze. Just prune them back and water from time to time.
Heat-loving plants such as citrus trees must be inside the house or garage. If they have to spend the winter in a garage, put them where they will receive 4 hours of sunlight and wrap the pot in bubble wrap or slip it into a Styrofoam ice chest. Mist the leaves on sunny days.
Tropical plants such as mandevilla, yellow bells and angel’s trumpet can be dug and stored with a little soil around the roots. After digging, prune the roots and stems, put the plant in a plastic bucket in the garage for winter dormancy.
Tropical hibiscus should have sunlight to survive the winter. Cut back both the roots and stems by one-third to make the plant a more manageable size. Water once a month.
Gardenias need 4-hours of bright light and 75-degree temperatures. Let the soil become dry on the top two inches before watering. Hold off on fertilizing until February.
Bougainvilleas can be pruned and dug up to put into pots to bring inside. They never want wet soil so water sparingly. If it will be stored in a sunny, unheated garage, put it into a plastic bag of Styrofoam peanuts as insulation. Leave the bag open at the top; close it only when temperatures dip below freezing.
You must bring tropical ginger, weeping fig (Ficus) and philodendron into the house in order for them to survive. Begonias can be brought inside in their pots.
Herbs can be used all winter. Rosemary, oregano, lemongrass, parsley, basil and many others will continue to thrive inside. Chive plants can be dug and potted to bring in.
Peppers are tropical perennials and if you can give them enough heat and light to discourage insects, you will have large plants that will give you an early harvest next spring.
Any unripe peppers on the plants will continue to mature if they have a south facing window or 40-watt florescent lights and a warm place to grow.