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Annuals Indoors
by Jerry Filipski
by Jerry Filipski

email: jfilipski@yahoo.com

Gerald (Jerry) Filipski is the gardening columnist for the Edmonton Journal, a position he has enjoyed as a freelance writer for the past 12 years. Jerry also writes for Canadian Gardening, the new Alberta Gardener as well as for the lifestyle magazine of P&O ferries. Jerry also does numerous public speaking engagements including some major gardening conferences and workshops as well as question and answer sessions for Wal-Mart and Rona.


November 16, 2008

Throwing out those annuals you had planted in your container does not have to be an automatic fall chore. Some annuals will do very nicely indoors and others will even excel. By definition an annual is a plant that survives only one growing season. These same annuals that will not survive our winters are perennials or even woody shrubs in other parts of the country.

Geraniums, coleus, impatiens, fuschia, ivies, fibrous begonias, dracaenas, heliotrope, petunias, lantana and polka dot plants are just a few examples annual that will continue growing indoors throughout the winter. Herbs such as basil, tarragon, parsley, thyme, mint, chives, sage, marjoram and oregano can also be brought in to enjoy. While some of the herbs listed are perennials it is still nice to have them available for cooking during the winter months.

Before bringing the plants indoors check them carefully for signs of insects or disease. If you find any signs either treat them or discard them. It is best to acclimatize the plants in a cooler area before bringing them directly indoors. Perhaps your condo, apartment or house has a basement. Placing plants in a cooler portion of the basement will help them get used to coming indoors.

If you do not have access to a basement you will have to bring them directly indoors. Try to keep them out of direct sun for the first week or so. Placing them into a cooler room will also help. Certainly the plants have to be bright in before the first hard frost.

You have a choice when it comes to the pot. If the plants are already in a container they can stay in the same container if it is suitable to bring indoors. You will need to refresh the potting mixture because it will have depleted any nutrients it had during the growing season. If the container is not suitable to bring indoors then you can repot the plants. Repot into smaller individual pots with a good quality potting mix.

Once you have brought the plants in you will need to cut them back by 1/3 and give them a treatment of well-balanced liquid fertilizer such as 20-20-20. After waiting the 2 weeks you can place them in a bright sunny location. Continue giving them the fertilizer on a regular basis and the plants will soon begin to develop new leaves and stems. Keep the plants away from other houseplants until you are sure they are pest and disease free.

Some plants such as wax begonias and browallia will bloom continuously while others such as portulacas and ageratum will stop blooming in November or December because of the short days. You can help these plants out to continue blooming by using artificial light. If they stop blooming and you do not want to use artificial light do not throw them out. If they are healthy and doing well keep them as a foliage plant and they will have a great head start for next spring.

Other plants such as ornamental kale and coleus that are grown as foliage plants indoors or out will grow very well indoors and will actually get better with age. The following spring will see these overwintered plants doing very well indeed outdoors.

Humidity is certainly a concern. The winter tends to be dry and the air in most homes is even drier. There is a need to add humidity to the area that you saved annuals are growing in. This can be achieved by growing the plants on a pebble tray. The tray consists of a shallow tray that is filled with pebbles. Water is added to the tray to just below the level of the pebbles. The pots and/or containers are placed on top of the pebbles. The bottom of the pot should never be in direct contact with the water.

Don't be afraid to experiment. That expensive annual you bought and grew to love in your container just might make it through the winter inside. Pamper it, give it extra light, fertilize weekly and keep it pinched back if it gets leggy. The enjoyment you will get out of having a mature plant to plant out in the spring will more than make up for the effort in the winter. Mature plants bloom sooner, have bigger blooms and more vigour.

If you are not feeling too experimental wax begonias, coleus, geraniums and impatiens are your best bets for success in overwintering annuals. If you don?t have the space to bring mature plants in, you can take cuttings of a favorite annual and grow the cuttings on over the winter.

Try bringing a piece of summer in for the winter and brighten an area with an annual. Next spring enjoy the benefits of planting out a mature plant. It really is a win-win proposition.

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