The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

December 15, 2016

Protect potted perennials from winter cold

Filed under: Potted Plants,Weather — bob @ 8:45 am

Just about every year, going into winter, I have perennials or other potted plants left over from the growing season that never got planted for one reason or another. I usually have plans for them so I like to keep them over winter.

It’s a good idea to keep plants out as long as possible in the fall. An occasional short cold snap doesn’t bother the plants at all. This year the mild fall weather lasted so long that I just now got most of them put away into their winter storage spots.

The most valuable plants I worry about are my bonsai.  They are several years old, my false sequoia is well over 20 years old. All the bonsai are hardy trees that require a cold dormant period to complete their annual life cycle so have to be kept outside during the winter.

There’s a spot under my mature pine trees where the bonsai spend the winter. There I dig a hole and place them in the hole on their sides. Placing them sideways keeps snow melt water (which we get sometimes) from accumulating in the pots. That reduces the chance that the terracotta pots will crack when the water re-freezes. Soil excavated from the hole gets banked up over the pots and the crown of the trees. I then rake plenty pine needles over the tops to insulate them from the cold winter temperature and wind. The entire storage area gets covered with a tarp or other kind of covering.

I put the rest of my perennials in various places around my property. I have a number of  left over grape cuttings that I rooted this spring. Those I tucked away in a well-drained spot in the vegetable garden. A few miscellaneous perennial flowers are mixed in there with the grapes.

Pots in trench

A few years back I had some potted elderberry plants that I overwintered in the ground. I buried the pots as usual but put them in a new place, somewhere way out of the way. When spring arrived I was so busy that I forgot I even had elderberry plants. It wasn’t until late June that I saw a group of elderberries growing out of the soil that I remembered I stored them there the previous fall. I learned how a squirrel feels when it forgets where it buried its acorns.

Some weather forecasters are predicting another polar vortex may be taking shape again so it’s time to finish up getting those plants into the ground.




September 24, 2015

Elephant ears plants blooming

Filed under: Flowers,Potted Plants — bob @ 1:32 pm

I’ve been growing Elephant ears — Colocasia esculenta — for many years. Over that period of time I’ve rarely had them bloom. They just don’t set flowers very often.

Normally when plants blossom, it means they are all set to produce seeds. Colocasia, however has been cultivated for so long, that it no longer is able to produce seeds and relies on people to reproduce. In tropical regions, people plant the underground corms like we would plant a flower bulb here in Michigan.

Colocasia is a dramatic addition to the landscape with it’s huge leaves that easily grow to three feet long in Michigan. In it’s native area in the tropics the leaves can measure six feet in length.

People in the tropics don’t grow them for their landscape, instead they eat them. There, colocasia is called taro and is a major food crop where it is used like we use potatoes here. Millions of tons of taro are harvested each year.

One winter, many years ago, I had a recent immigrant from the south Pacific visit the greenhouse where I was growing dozens of colocasia in pots getting them ready for planting out into the landscape. She recognized them immediately and asked me if I was growing them for harvest. I told her they were for planing out in the landscape as a decorative plant. She laughed and thought that was quite funny!


This is the second flower bud on this colocasia plant.

This is the second flower bud on this colocasia plant.

My blooming colocasia was one that I stored in my semi-heated garage over winter. I kept it in its pot and let the soil dry out. I watered it once in a while.

The plant went dormant and was exposed to some cool temperatures for extended periods of time but it never got much colder than the lower 40′s. The only light it got was low, indirect sunlight from a small garage window.

I have a theory that stressing the plant somehow triggered a flowering mechanism. The other colocasia I had bloom was about 12 years ago and that plant was stored over winter much the same way.

I’d be interested to hear if any readers have had similar experiences with their colocasia.





February 18, 2015

Mother-in-law’s tongue plant

Filed under: Flowers,Potted Plants — bob @ 9:17 am

Recently I’ve had three people ask me about caring for  their Sansevieria. I took that as a sign that there may be a few more people wondering about the same thing.

Sansevieria, commonly known as mother-in-law’s tongue or snake plant, are probably the most common plant found in people’s homes. I suspect the reason for this is because they survive long after other plants have died from neglect. Therein lies the secrete to keeping a Sansevieria: benign neglect.

Most plants die fairly quickly if neglected. Not so with Sansevieria. Whenever I see a snake plant that has problems, most of the time it’s because its owner watered it too much. During this time of the year watering about once every three weeks is plenty. Water a little more frequently if the plant is in a bright window or greenhouse, a little less if it is in a darker area of the house.

Although they can survive under almost any kind of lighting conditions, full morning sun will help your plant thrive rather than just survive . Continuous bright but not direct light is just as good. I kept one in a bright foyer area for years and it was quite happy there. If your plant’s leaves are flopping over, it may be a sign of too little light.


Mother-in-law's tongue plants do well when their roots are crowded. Note the small size of the pot.

Mother-in-law’s tongue plants do well when their roots are crowded. Note the small size of the pot.

Sansevieria grow under a wide temperature range too. So if you are competing with your most energy efficient neighbors to use the least amount of energy during the winter, don’t worry about hurting your Sansevieria by turning down the thermostat too much, it will do fine in cool, but not cold, conditions. From my own experience I would caution you not to leave your plant in a drafty place when the temperature might go below 40°F for any length of time — low temperatures will cause chilling injury.

Because Sansevieria are grown for their foliage and rarely flower, some people think they are dull and boring. If you are in this group, think about this: NASA scientists have found that Sansevieria has the ability to clean significant amounts of formaldehyde, benzine and other toxic chemicals from the air. So, they’re really not so boring after all.

Fortunately for those who have pets or small children, Sansevieria are non-poisonous however they may cause skin irritation.





December 3, 2014

Taking care of your holiday rosemary plant

Filed under: Herbs,Indoor Gardening,Potted Plants — bob @ 1:06 pm

Although nowhere near as popular as poinsettias, rosemary plants are becoming a favorite holiday plant.

Rosemary trimmed to a conical shape bears a striking resemblance to a miniature Christmas tree. Though it may look like it, rosemary is not related to pine, spruce or any other evergreen trees. It belongs to the mint family of plants which includes basil, thyme, mint and sage.

Just brushing against the leaves of  a potted rosemary releases its signature fragrance that can fill a room.

In most cases, fresh sprigs can be cut from a potted rosemary and be used in recipes calling for this herb. I say in most cases because sometimes plant growers apply systemic pesticides to their rosemary crop. In that case the rosemary is intended for ornamental use only and not for consumption. Always read the plant tag before assuming your plant is OK to use in the kitchen.

Don't assume your plant is safe to use for cooking, read the tag first.

Don’t assume your plant is safe to use for cooking, read the tag first.

Rosemary is fairly easy to care for if you pay attention to its watering needs. Even though it grows wild in the dry, arid regions of the Mediterranean, to thrive in a home environment, rosemary requires even moisture.

To water a potted rosemary, I like to immerse the entire pot into a bucket of water until the soil is completely saturated. If it floats in the bucket, I leave it in longer. I then set the pot into the kitchen sink to let excess water flow through. When no more water drains out, I know it’s safe to put it back in its foil wrapper or on its saucer.

A bucket is a good way to make sure your rosemary gets adequate water.

A bucket is a good way to make sure your rosemary gets adequate water.

Don’t be tempted to water it and let water stand in the saucer or wrapper thinking that is supplying even moisture. Standing water will drown and kill rosemary roots and eventually the entire plant.

On the other hand, don’t let the plant dry out. The stiff foliage doesn’t appear to wilt much when the plant gets dry, but damage can happen pretty quickly from lack of water.

Try this little trick: try to gauge how much your rosemary weighs before you water it. After the plant has drained in the sink, note how much heavier it feels when you pick it up. After a few times you’ll be able to have a good guess at how dry the plant is. If you’re not comfortable doing that, use a moisture meter — they’re relatively inexpensive and make a great Christmas gift!


January 31, 2012

Warm Winter Days

Filed under: Potted Plants,Weather — bob @ 12:56 pm

This last day in January is the warmest we’ve had in a series of unseasonably warm days.  I hesitated to write about taking advantage of these kind of days because when they happen, they only happen once — then it’s winter again.  The way this winter is going we may well get a few more of these.

Days like this give us a chance to take care of our plants.

Take today for example, it’s nearly 60 degrees outside.  That gave me a chance to haul out all of the plants I’ve been overwintering indoors.

A few of my indoor plants getting a much needed shower outside — on January 31.

When plants stay inside all winter the insect and mite population can get out of hand.  Also, household dust can collect and clog stomata, the microscopic pores on the leaves. It’s through the stomata that plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen.  If those pores become clogged, photosynthesis slows down which weakens the plant.

So, in the winter, plants are subjected to a double whammy.  They are weakened by clogged stomata and then attacked by a growing pest problem.

The best thing you can do for your plants is to take them outside on mild winter days and hose them off with water. That’s exactly what I did today.

I also had a chance to moisten the tubers and geraniums that I have in winter storage.  It’s a lot easier to do this job outside where I don’t have to worry about getting water all over the place.

Plan to take advantage of the next warm day – if we have one—to help out your plants.


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