Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Heat Is On

An overnight low temperature of 39 degrees F remains in our weather forecast.  Frost warnings are absent from forecasts but our experience requires some caution.  Older hardiness zone maps show a finger of cold stretching from the high peaks of the Adirondacks to very near the southern border of New York.  Mountain cold spreads across the state bringing us temperatures that are frequently seven degrees colder that those forecast.  A little simple arithmetic tells us that frost here is possible tonight.

These two Lemon Verbena plants grew from cuttings taken earlier this year from plants overwintered in our basement.  Our experience with this plant has shown some frost hardiness but we are super cautious.  Four other plants will remain outside tonight.  Two plants are three years old now and are simply too large to pot up and bring inside.  The other two plants are in their second year and will spend the winter indoors.  A light frost tonight will do them no harm so their move into a pot is days away.

We have watched countless Lemon Verbenas die inside during winter.  Our success with them has improved greatly since we started cutting them back several days before the move to the pot.  The older plants will also require root pruning.  Notorious wilters, they pout for days after transplanting.  A close look at the above photo will reveal drooping stems already despite my flooding the pot and sprinkling water on the leaves.  Confined to a shady daytime location, it may take a week or more for them to recover.

We have found it impossible to buy these plants locally.  Richters is a reliable mail order source for Lemon Verbena but if we are successful starting new cuttings they may not get an order again next year.

Lemon grass is another plant that naturally grows in a much warmer climate.  Two of these plants will spend the next several months on a table where I build models.  They will be positioned between me and the large windows but all are content with that arrangement.  The other two will flank the mostly glass front door that we never use as a door.  Air currents swirling up the stairwell, heat from radiators on either side and a generous southern exposure combine to make this the best location that we have to overwinter plants inside.

We have discovered that a key to success with these plants in pots is generous amounts of water.  Each pot will be placed in a plastic dishpan intended to contain excess water.  The plants will draw from their individual reservoirs between waterings.

It is much too early for these plants to start their time indoors.  For the next several weeks they will spend warm days basking on the stone wall and cold nights indoors.  It seems that much of my time at either end of the gardening season is devoted to moving potted plants between the wall and the basement.  Hefting three gallon pots filled with soil keeps me fit.  I really look forward to the day next spring when this process starts again.  Then it will represent another beginning rather than the present ending.

Our wake up temperature was 49 degrees F the following morning.  The four butternut squash picked yesterday were almost completely ripe.  Cool nights set the sugars in butternut squash so those remaining in the field will be of better quality than the ones harvested yesterday.  The four pumpkins picked yesterday gave every appearance of being fully ripe.  As it turns out, we were overly cautious but when dealing with frost one error is fatal.  The plants in pots will be returned to the wall and another day in the garden will soon be underway.

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