January 6, 1995

When Cold Weather Comes, Move Gardening Indoors

Phyllis Stephens Correspondent
 

The winter cold may keep us from the garden, but it can’t keep us from gardening. When the ground freezes and the plants hibernate, we simply move our hobby (or obsession) indoors. With winter gardening comes a passel of interesting questions.

Q. Can we wash the leaves of African violets? - Rose, Spokane

A. Absolutely. All plant leaves collect dust, just like furniture. Just as we dust the furniture to keep the wood healthy, we must also remove the dust from the leaves of plants to keep them healthy.

Leaves have pores that breathe - a little like our skin. These pores can easily be plugged with dirt and grime. This makes it very difficult for the plant to manufacture food through photosynthesis and to breathe. Therefore, a good old-fashioned bath is in order.

There are a few special rules to follow, however, when cleaning the leaves of the African violet: 1. Always use tepid water (room temperature). Cold water can cause ugly brown spots to appear on the leaf surface. 2. Protect the crown of the plant as best you can from becoming saturated with water (the stems emerge from the crown of the plant). 3. Let the plant dry in an area protected from direct sun and drafts.

Here are a few suggested methods for giving the plant its bath: 1. With a hand sprayer, simply mist the leaves with tepid water. 2. Wedge the crown of the plant between your middle and ring fingers, allowing the palm of your hand to cover the top of the pot. Turn the pot on its side and wash the leaves under the faucet, again with tepid water. With the plant on its side, the crown will be protected. 3. Fashion a barber’s collar out of cellophane or aluminum foil. Cut a circle a little larger than the pot. Make a cut to the center. Then at the center, cut a hole one to two inches in diameter. Fit the collar neatly around the crown of the violet. You can now turn the violet upside down and swish it back and forth in a sink full of mild soap and tepid water. If soap is used, the plant must be rinsed.

You may be surprised to see how quickly clean, healthy plants can produce new growth and flower buds.

Q. I was given a miniature rose for Christmas. What is the best way to ensure its survival? - Joyce, Spokane

A. Miniature roses are beautiful little plants, but often they make lousy house guests. These delightful gems love the great outdoors where the cool, soft breezes can rustle through their leaves, where sunshine allows healthy cells to grow and where their roots have room to play in moist, rich soil. These conditions are usually a far cry from what our homes have to offer.

The air in our homes is usually still, dry and hot which can lead to an invasion of spider mites - identified by mottled grayish, yellow leaves. Direct sunshine is usually a rarity during the winter months. If we receive it at all, it is usually short-lived and low in the southern sky.

Because of this, plants develop spindly growth. And last, the root systems are usually crowded into small pots to ensure flower development. Crowded roots often lead to improper watering and nutrient up-take. Plants wilt and leaves turn yellow and drop.

Sound bleak? Never. We Inland Northwest gardeners are always up for a challenge. As long as the rose has flowers, place the plant in a spot where you’ll enjoy it most. Once the flowers fade, transplant the rose into a one-size-larger container. Loosen the roots a bit and pot it up in new potting soil. Keep the soil moist but never soggy.

Set the plant in a very cool or cold room. Shine a grow-light onto the rose for 12 to 14 hours a day. In April, begin hardening the rose to the outside by taking it out during the day and bringing it into the garage during the night. Gradually start leaving it outside all day and night. This hardening-off period takes about 10 days. Once it is hardened to its new environment, plant it in the ground and enjoy it for many years.

If the rose develops a case of mites, wash it in the same manner as the African violets noted in the first question, or spray the rose with insecticidal soap.

Q. I have a China Doll houseplant, (rademachera), that is growing into a wild bush. Can it be pruned back? - Beryl, Spokane

A. Most rademachera have been treated with a growth retardant which keeps them properly compact for some period of time. Eventually the plant will outgrow this retardant and take off.

When this occurs, simply nip the wild branches back to a growth bud or leaf cluster. Always use sharp shears for a clean cut. It’s best not to prune while the plant is actively growing.

This delicate, airy plant loves light but not direct sunlight. If it receives too little light or if it is kept too warm, it may become quite straggly.

It also cannot be kept in a room where there is smoke.

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