Rushing: Time to prepare for winter

By FELDER RUSHING GUEST COLUMNIST,

Autumn’s chill reminds me it’s time to start doing what I swore as a kid I wouldn’t as a grownup: Hauling potted plants indoors for the winter.

Mom had a huge potted rubber tree, a scraggly Norfolk Island pine, and a treasured old bird of paradise plant in a weathered redwood planter, all of which had to be dragged in and out with the seasons. For some reason the chore always seemed to fall on me; maybe she was being prescient about my eventual love of potted plants, but back then to me it was a childhood imposition.

But I did learn to faithfully scoop out the fallen tree leaves, old mulch, and top inch or so of potting soil, lest it harbor hitchhiking critters that would have wreaked havoc in the warmth of our den. Nothing like a half-starved lizard or cricket running around the room to upset Dad’s evening muse.

I watered everything really well, two or three times a few minutes apart, to drive out any ants and to get the plants set up for the months ahead of low humidity created by our central heating. This was followed by a scoop or two of fresh mulch to keep down the tiny fungus gnats that feed harmlessly on moist potting soil.

Mom showed me how to groom the plants by gently twisting or carefully snipping off old, faded, broken, or spotted leaves, and taking a damp cloth to the undersides of the ones left to get rid of spider mites and the like.

And it paid off both then and now. This is exactly what I’ve been doing all week, readying my dozens of potted beauties for their sun room winter haven. I set saucers on “pot feet” so water can evaporate underneath lest it stain the tiles, and I tier small plants so when they get watered the excess drips into pots of bigger plants underneath. Huddling plants like this also creates a shared, naturally humid, jungle-like microclimate which helps them all get through a lot better.

Some of my plants are old; I’ve had both Big Jim, my rubber tree, and a small Sansevieria (related to the common “snake plant” or “mother-in-law tongue”) for over 45 years now. I have to whack them back every now and then to keep them in bounds. And my super durable Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema) and a couple of ribbon Dracaenas only need a few older leaves snipped off and occasional pruning to keep them bushy.

By the way, talk about naughty or nice - Santa Claus has his sights on the thief who covertly snipped off a big chunk of one of the rarest plants in Mississippi. In public.

Last week at the state flower show I entered my rare and really bizarre “walking” Sansevieria, a clunky spiny creature that spreads above ground on stilt-like root pegs. It was awarded a blue ribbon partly because the judges didn’t know what else to do with it. But when I went to retrieve it, someone had availed themselves of a big piece of it. It walked without permission. Luckily it will sprout back out. No idea who stole it, but Santa does, and his kind of karma can really bite. Just saying.

And honestly, it isn’t like I haven’t discreetly purloined a few seeds and “rescued” some abandoned bulbs here and there myself. Not proud of it, but then again I didn’t snag a big noticeable chunk.

Anyway, time to start dragging what I have left indoors, rather than wait to the last second. But first I gotta relocate the lizards.

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