Don’t fall for Mother Nature’s frost warning trickery

Erin Schanen


Glorious early fall days are lovely to enjoy, but don’t be fooled — it’s a setup. It’s all part of a master plan to trick gardeners into bringing more plants inside than they intended to. At least that’s my theory based on years of such trickery by Mother Nature.

Here’s how the ruse works: Lulled into a false sense of temperature-related security by blue, sunny skies that send a shorts, not sweaters, message, we sit back and soak it all up, forgetting about all the plants we have sitting outside that can’t tolerate cold temperatures. Then one day, we hear those fateful words — frost warning.

And so begins a frantic scramble to bring in house plants that vacationed outside for summer and any tender plants that made their way into the garden. They are carried, dragged and even jammed in the nearest door with no thought as to where they will go or what organisms may have hitched a ride straight into the living room.

But I won’t fall for it this year, because I have a plan for all those tender plants soaking up sunshine right now, much of it guided by the book “Tropical Plants and How to Love Them” by Marianne Willburn.

Other than the usual houseplants that I move in and out every year, my criteria for a plant to make the cut and be brought inside is that it be either difficult to find, expensive or just too nice to strand outside.

Plectranthus ‘Silver Shield,’ a beautiful silver foliage plant I used extensively this year, was so hard to find in spring that I want to save myself the hassle of the search next year. I’ve started taking cuttings and will overwinter a couple pots, then take cuttings from those in late winter to create my own stock of plants.

The Abutilon (aka flowering maple) standards I purchased mid-season ended up being much nicer than the struggling roses they replaced in a pair of containers, but even on a half-price sale they were $25 each. At that price I think they are worth at least attempting to overwinter, although they are notoriously fussy about humidity so I don’t give them great odds.

The Colocasia ‘Coffee Cups’ is just too good to leave behind. Fortunately, I planted it in a plastic pot that I then sunk in another pot with other flowers so it should be easy to lift and bring in. Unlike some elephant ears, it doesn’t form very large corms, so I’ll overwinter it as a semi-dormant plant rather than digging and storing the corms.

And there are other plants, like the kumquat, which has so far produced nothing but angst, and a Senecio called ‘Skyscraper’ that will come indoors for the full-on royal treatment.

My hope is that by deciding now what has earned an indoor spot, I’ll avoid that frost-is-coming panic that leads to far too many plants and far too little room in the house. Otherwise, I face another winter of having to hurdle a philodendron to get out of the door.



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