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Bringing in plants for the winter

09/17/07 11:38AM By Henry Homeyer
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(HOST) It's nearly time to prepare any plants you might want to keep inside for the winter, and commentator Henry Homeyer has some tips for a successful transition.

(HOMEYER) Winter is on the way. The local soft serve stand has closed for the year, and a few trees are showing red in their leaves. It's time to get tender plants ready to come inside for the winter.

I recently potted up a rosemary that was growing in our vegetable garden. It wouldn't survive the winter outside, but it won't be happy about the move, either. It would rather live outdoors in Italy or California, where the winters rarely go much below freezing.

Here's what I did. First, I dug it up. Using a trowel, I loosened the soil around the plant about six inches from the central stem of this first-year plant. Then I tipped back the trowel, prying it up a bit. I slipped my free hand under the rootball, and lifted it out of the soil.

I had already washed a selection of pots in different sizes. I selected one that was big enough for my plant, even after I added some gravel in the bottom, and an inch of potting soil on top of that.

Indoor plants do best in a potting mix that drains well and stays fluffy. Planting a rosemary in pure garden soil would be a recipe for disaster, so I tickled the root ball a bit to get rid of some of the soil, but tried not to disturb the roots too much. After I set the plant in the pot, there was an inch gap all the way around the root ball, which I filled with potting soil, pressing it firmly in place before watering it well. I didn't give it any fertilizer, because I don't want to encourage fast growth indoors where there isn't much light.

I placed it in the shade of a hemlock for a day, and then moved it back to its spot in the garden. As with puppies and small children, I try not to change too many things at once. Potting up a plant is stressful, as is moving it indoors, so I will keep it outdoors as long as I can. Rosemary can take light frost, which should also kill any aphids or white flies.

Before I bring any plant inside, I put on my reading glasses and really look for insects or their eggs. If I see any, I wash them off with a gentle spray of the hose. If they persist, I spray them with a dilute soap-and-water solution, which takes care of soft bodied bugs. If you bring in your rosemary, just remember that they come from places with dry climates - so don't overwater. Once a week is fine until spring when they start their growth spurt, and will need more water.

I've killed them by underwatering, too, of course, but either way, you can always harvest the leaves and use them in soups and stews.

Bon appetit!

Henry Homeyer is a gardening writer and columnist.
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