Bringing in Plants, Mandevilla & Planting

Bring in all your indoor plants now, and spray them first; taking cuttings of Mandevilla; & how to correct a terrible planting job!
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

October 21, 2007

Above, Cattleya skinneri at an orchid show in Nanaimo, B.C.; and below, part of an outstanding outdoor orchid exhibit on the island of Barbados. Author photos.

Giuliana Camelia of unknown location wrote on both September 28th and October 14th and I regret not being able to get to her, and others’ questions until now. “I still have my orchid plant outside. Can you please tell to me when to bring it in? Do I need to spray it with anything for bugs? When would be the best time to start the orchid food again? Thank you.”

Since you are in Ontario Giuliana, I realize you still have warm temperatures, but it is definitely time now to bring in your orchid. Before doing that, it is always wise to spray the entire plant with an insecticide such as Doktor Doom House & Garden Insecticide. I would have kept up a fertilizer regimen even while the plant was outdoors. But since you did not, then I would recommence now.

Madge Veitch of Innisfil, Ontario wrote on October 11, “Just thinking of taking in my Mandevilla vines from patio--they have overwintered for two years now thanks to your expert advice. Would like to know if I can take cuttings and if so when is the best time? I had success with flowering maple this year and gave away lots to my friends.”

Generally Mandevilla is considered an easy-to-propagate plant. Take cuttings, even now as you bring them indoors, by cutting the tips of the stronger growing branches, not exceeding 20 cm (8”) long. Make the basal cut with a sharp knife immediately below a node, from whence two leaves emerge. Remove at least those two leaves (and at least the next two up the cutting) by cutting the leaf stem of each, and you may also wish to cut the remaining leaves in half. Use a rooting hormone designated for softwood cuttings and ‘stick’ the cuttings into a good sterile medium such as perlite, vermiculite, styrofoam beads or even peat moss. It will be important to keep the cuttings and the rooting medium moist, but not soaked. Placing a hood of clear plastic over the whole container should work well. A good level of light for at least 12 to 14 hours every day will be needed, and if you can have the container with the rooting medium and cuttings warm (by placing it on an appliance such as a refrigerator) that should speed up the rooting. The air temperature of the room where the cuttings are being rooted is much less important than having some moderate heat basally.

And finally this week, Sandy from somewhere out here in “Shaw country” wrote last Thursday, October 18, with this unusual question: “Enjoy your articles--especially the ones on incorrect advice and information! This is not about incorrect information, it is concerning incorrect planting. Last year, 'landscapers' planted a mixture of deciduous and evergreen trees ranging from 5 to 10' tall in a trench that was composed of rocks, gravel, sand and a bit of clay. They neglected to add anything that would make this 'dirt' become soil. They then put 2 to 6" (it varies over the area) of shredded bark mulch on top of the planting area. We have added fertilizer (time release-recommended by Brian) and have faithfully watered, but the trees are looking stressed due to lack of nutrients and nothing to retain the water in the soil around the roots--at least this would be my 'guess'.

“Outside of digging up these large trees and then adding compost etc. to the planting holes and replanting the trees, is there anything we could do? Keep in mind I am a small 61-year-old woman who cannot afford to get yet another 'landscaper' to fix this problem. The original 'landscapers' deny there is a problem and insist their planting method was alright.......we are not able to pursue legal means to force them to redo this. The legal system is so slow that by the time it was corrected we wouldn't care! Would it help if I dug several holes to the root level and filled these with compost? It would be a lot of hard digging as it is so rocky and there are about 30 trees (20 of them being a type of cedar hedging) but I could do this one by one. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.”

Well Sandy, you indeed have a problem on your hands. I would be curious what you think the percentages of rocks, gravel, sand and clay are on average. If the clay, sand and gravel total between 50 and 70 percent of the total by volume, I would think you are not too badly off. After all, many trees are planted in extremely rocky soil--I well re-member being involved in extensive tree planting in the extremity areas of my alma mater, The Niagara Parks Com-mission School of Horticulture which we always thought was more rock than clay soil.

Your idea of digging vertical holes down to the root area would certainly not hurt, but whether the benefit would equal the amount of work involved is questionable, at least in my mind. You did not say when last year the trees were planted. But if it was last spring, and they now have two years of growth and have not made at least some growth, I think you definitely need to take some action. While I do not disagree with Brian (Minter, I assume), I would in addition be using a soluble/liquid fertilizer applied to the foliage about every two to three weeks from early spring until about the beginning of August each year. A good soaking will lead to a lot of “drip off” from the foliage and twigs and that fertilizer will find its way into the soil and rocks around the tree roots--certainly some of it will be absorbed and taken up by those roots.

I would do that for all of next spring and summer, and then re-examine the situation. I would think that you’ll see much stronger growing trees, without a lot digging.

And one final point--six inches of shredded back mulch is too much. I would definitely remove any mulch in excess of 3 cm (1½”) and place it in another area of the garden. You might also wish to make sure that none of the mulch actually touches the bark or trunk of any of the trees.

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