Planting by the signs

Last week, as I was putting the finishing touches on my column before shipping it to Your Hometown Newspaper, the temperature was in the high 80s — maybe even the low 90s — under a brutal sun with clear blue skies. To talk of frost and the statistical first chances seemed a bit beyond strange.

Then came Friday a week ago when fall really arrived and the meteorologists started projecting the possibility of the season’s first frost at the end of this week — as in tonight — I found it hard to believe.

As I wrote last week, depending on what chart you’re looking at, the statistical date for first frost in these parts is somewhere between Oct. 10 and Oct. 31. And, it appears as if we’ll have a chance for it occurring near the front end of that!

Now, if we have frost, it will likely be light — not the killing variety. But, if the stats hold true, that should be coming in a couple of weeks.

Where did summer go in such a hurry?

Bringing in outdoor plants

As frost and freezing weather approach, many of us have plants we like to over-winter. If you’ve done this before you know there’s more to it than picking up the pot and the plant and carrying it inside — especially if you’d like to bring it back outside next spring.

I have several we have over-wintered successfully for years. Since I can’t cover every plant, I would suggest you go online and check for your specific plant’s requirements. Here are some general tips I found on the Internet:

• Look over each plant carefully for signs of pests and diseases.

• Dig up the entire plant and replant in fresh potting soil.

• Place plants in a sunny location. Supplemental lights can be used if there is not adequate natural.

• Water the plants when the top inch of soil becomes dry. Do not over water. The idea is to keep the plants alive, not to promote new growth, that’s for the summer outdoors.

Here are some additional general tips in an article that I found on the internet by E. Vinje:

“If you’re bringing a potted plant indoors for the first time and aren’t sure what conditions they’ll survive, give them the best you can. For me, this has meant bringing them into the kitchen or dining room close to a south, east or west facing window.

“Water moderately — let the soil dry out completely before you do — and give the plants a quarter turn each week to evenly distribute light. Trimming plants back when first brought in can also be beneficial. With less mass to support the plant stands a better chance. Don’t feed them while indoors — orchids are the exception.

“Know your plants. Some plants, like calla lilies and dahlias do best in a cool dark place. Some, like agave plants, like cool places but plenty of light. Some, like geraniums, need moist conditions. And some, like begonias and decorative sages, need warmth and light.

“Because winter days are short and don’t always offer enough sunlight to keep plants healthy, we (and my critical friends) can’t recommend grow lights enough for the plants that require brightness.

“These can be simple, T5 fluorescent fixtures, or bright spots specifically designed for sun-loving plants. Either way, lights can add warmth and interest to your indoor setting, as they highlight the plants they’re sustaining.”

Poinsettia testimony

Our house has lots of windows and I try to simulate each plant’s location when it was outdoors in the summer. Typically, plants go into “shock” coming from outdoors to indoors — and the other way around in the spring. I have some that seem to have died while inside, only to rally when spring returns.


This “big box store” variety poinsettia was a gift from our son-in-law Drew Curnutte for Christmas 2011 before he and Megan married. It was about 6 inches tall when he brought it and it’s gone outdoors every spring and come back in every fall since. It’s now 3 feet from the bottom of the pot to the top of the plant and it blooms every year — though not always at Christmas. (Photo by Philip Case)

Back during Christmas 2011, Megan’s boyfriend (now husband) Drew Curnutte, brought one of those little $3.99 poinsettias as a hostess gift to his first Christmas dinner at our house. Do the math — eight years ago!

Every year since, that plant has gone out with spring and back in when fall arrives. I haven’t followed the typical rules for saving a poinsettia — and they are extensive — just brought it in, often re-potted, kept it watered when needed and hoped for the best.

I must admit that sometimes it didn’t appear as if it was going to make it, but thus far, it’s always rallied. It’s pictured elsewhere here. Now preparing to complete its eighth summer outdoors — and indoors — it’s doing pretty well.

When’s the best time?

When to bring the plants indoors is tricky, too. A couple of years ago, a friend told me she thinks the best time is “between air conditioning and heat. When you’re not using either one for a few days, then bring them in.”

In other words, don’t wait until the day-to-night temperature swings are dramatic — warm days and frigid nights. That formula sends them into shock quickly. Bring them in and let them start acclimating.

What we can/should do now

If you’re doing any planting now it needs to be in a cold frame, low tunnel or greenhouse — surely to goodness that’s abundantly clear. Unprotected planting in the outside garden is done.

I had a question from a follower of my online column, @plantingbysigns, who lives in southern Florida. She has tomatoes coming on and was wondering about planting peppers!

I became envious.

The rain earlier in the week helped, but it in no way made up for the deficit. If you’ve planted trees, shrubs or other foundation plantings, be dedicated to keeping them watered if you want to keep them alive. The ground is really dry, so don’t assume because it rained a lot the problem is over.

If you want to submit a forecast for the upcoming winter, don’t hesitate. You can get it on in, in fact, and avoid the last-minute rush. Just make your forecast, sharing what you based it on, send it to me or drop it by the newspaper.

If you need some suggestions, pick up a copy of last week’s paper or check out the tips at

At some point closer to winter we’ll publish your forecast.

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