The Caladiums have about reached the limit of how much cold they will tolerate. We love their huge colorful leaves, and wait as late into the season as we can before disturbing them. But, it is time to come indoors for the winter.
Some gardeners bring them in and successfully dry the tubers. I’ve not had a high success rate with packing the tubers away in peat moss or sawdust for the winter, and so I prefer to leave the plants growing in pots, and bring the pots inside. When brought into the living room, they will normally die back for a few weeks to rest, and then sprout new leaves early in the new year. This makes it easy to keep up with them, and then transplant them back outside the following May when the weather has warmed up for good. It is just a little too cold in Virginia to leave Caladiums outside all winter. They will freeze and die.
Our large pots tend to be temporary homes for a variety of plants. The pots stay in place and the plants come and go with the seasons. So this afternoon I tackled the Caladiums and some of the Rex Begonias. When the Caladium leaves begin to fade, and several nights in a row dip below 50, its best to lift the tubers and find them a winter home.
Anything we can do for tender plants is better than doing nothing. Lifting them, and losing some roots and leaves, to bring them inside at least gives them a chance to survive. Some will thrive, some will languish. It is a chance we take. We can only be as gentle as we can be, minimizing the time roots are exposed to the air. This is different than standard re-potting since plants are dug out individually. Its good to do this on a fairly warm, overcast day. Assemble pots, fresh soil, trowel, clippers, fertilizer, bulbs, transplants, gloves, and water before beginning to dig. Once started, try to move each plant as quickly and gently as possible, watering it into its new pot so the roots settle firmly into place.
I recycled some pots which held Coleus this summer. The Coleus has grown leggy and is fading in the cooler temperatures. Coleus cuttings will survive the winter in vases of water. It is best to start with fresh plants each summer anyway, so this year’s plants are discarded when they fade.
Prepare the pots by mixing some Plant Tone into the recycled soil, or begin with all new potting soil. Scoop out a bowl shaped depression to receive the transplants. Probe around each Caladium tuber with the trowel. It’s hard to know how large the tubers have grown, but expect them to be larger than what was planted in spring. Begin a few inches away from the living stems, and scoop under the tuber from 3 or 4 different angles to loosen the roots.
Reach under the entire tuber and lift the plant in the palm of your hand, gently shaking some of the soil back into the summer pot. Place the tuber into the new pot, settling the roots, and push the first few tubers towards the edges. Make sure there is soil between the side of the pot and the tuber. Continue lifting tubers one at a time. They should be spaced several inches apart. Expect that the leaves will die back, and unless you add another plant or two, the pot will appear to be empty for much of the winter. Since the pot is coming into the living room I pot up Caladiums with something else that will live all winter indoors. I mixed these Caladiums with three of the Begonia Rex who have been outside in this same area. Gently probe around each Begonia plant, and gently lift it in the same way, shaking away excess soil. You want a fairly compact bit of soil and roots to transplant.
Settle these in between the Caladium tubers, and fill in around each plant with fresh potting soil, as needed. Finally top off the soil with a layer of gravel mulch, and spray gently with a fine mist of water to rinse the leaves and pot and settle the roots into place. This pot is now ready to come inside for the winter and will do well in bright but indirect light.
The pots which will over winter should be stripped of all tender plants, leaving only those hardy enough to survive the cold. I’ve left a fern and a Clematis in one pot, and a Heuchera, sprouting Grape Hyacinth bulbs, and a cutting of Begonia Gryphon in the other. Both of these pots will receive Violas and bulbs for winter and early spring blooms. Since both are heavy feeders, and will be expected to bloom all winter, it is smart to begin by digging in some Plant Tone. Next plant any bulbs. I’ve added some additional Grape Hyacinths and miniature Daffodils. I used the same bulbs in both pots I replanted today, so they will bloom together and look similiar next spring. Finally, I transplanted the Violas, topped off the pots with some fresh gravel mulch, and watered with a fine mist to wash away stray potting soil and settle the roots into their new pot.
Both pots look much better now that they are cleaned up and replanted for the winter. The large, leggy Begonia has more room to grow in its new pot, and is partnered with what is left of a Begonia Boliviensis which was badly grazed by deer. Safely inside, I expect it to leaf out again and possibly bloom over the winter. The large Begonia will drop a few leaves as it adjusts. I can cut back each of the branches to stimulate fresh growth lower on the stem. Sometimes I share these cuttings with friends, and sometimes give them the mother plant. These Begonias root so easily I always have more plants than I can reasonably bring in for the winter. This one was a rooted cutting when it went outside in late April, and has grown quite huge over the season.
Finally, the Coleus protecting the new C. “Jingle Bells” had to go today, too. It was hit by cold last week, was dropping leaves, and looked pretty ratty. I lifted one of the Rex Begonias in this pot, but left the other in place a while longer. Sometime soon I’ll lift it and plant the entire pot in Violas. I’m concerned about deer attracted to the Violas also eating the Camellia buds, so the change over for this pot is gradual. Today I took large cuttings of some leggy scented geraniums. I’ve read some accounts lately of other gardeners successfully protecting plants with the highly fragrant scented Pelargonium. Although I hope these cuttings root, if they don’t, they will remain fragrant and continue to protect the Camellia for many months. These particular Pelargonium normally aren’t hardy in Zone 7, but several survived last winter. Although the leaves eventually died back in an extended bit of frigid weather, the roots lived and the plants grew back this spring.
It is a luxury to have space indoors to keep plants through the winter. It also takes consistent attention to keep each pot properly watered, the leaves picked up, and the plants rotated so they get sufficient light. It is an investment of time and love, but the reward of much loved plants surviving from one summer to the next makes it worth the effort to bring in as many plants as one can when autumn nights grow cold.
All photos by Woodland Gnome 2013
- Small Beginnings (forestgardenblog.wordpress.com)
- Pansies, Violas, and Panolas
- Six Tips for Planting Caladiums (gardening.answers.com)
- Jamie Hancock: Plant bulbs now to create a spring show (cjonline.com)