Houseplant Jobs for Autumn

Autumn is traditionally a busy time in the garden, and caring for house and patio plants involves many of the same tasks: protecting tender plants from low temperatures, planting, taking cuttings and tidying up for winter. Autumn’s the time to get your house plants ready for winter. Most plants will need to rest until spring, but a few, such as cyclamen, will be just starting to grow.

Because house and patio plants come from so many different climates, no one set of rules applies to all of them but this general guide helps you plan your autumn workload.

Water, food and light

Water and feed actively growing plants generously while the weather is hot, but gradually reduce the amount of water and food as the cool weather sets in. Start drying off tuberous-rooted Begonias, Gloxinias and Hot-Water Plants, once flowering is over. For plants needing high humidity in summer, continue until the temperature drops, then reduce the humidity and ventilation. Increase the amount of light at the same time by moving plants back to south- or west-facing windows. Make sure tender perennials are protected from frost.

Keep clean and tidy

Remove faded or damaged flowers and leaves. Sweep fallen leaves from the patio, and throw out annuals that have finished flowering. If you have a greenhouse, clear out the plants and give it a good scrub, using a mild disinfectant. Clean and sterilize all empty containers and equipment, too.

Winter-Flowering PansiesPlanting and harvesting

  • Plant Wallflowers, Winter-Flowering Pansies, Forget-Me-Noss, Polyanthus and spring bulbs, such as Tulips, Hyacinths and Daffodils, in window-boxes, pots or tubs outdoors.
  • Plant dwarf conifers and other evergreen shrubs now and also plant seeds of hardy annuals, such as Love-in-a-Mist.
  • Pick all tomatoes before the first frost and ripen partly red ones on a sunny windowsill.
  • Pick herbs for drying. Hang them upside down in a warm, airy spot and then store in an airtight container to stop them re-absorbing moisture.
  • When Begonias have finally finished their flowering season, cut back by a third to a half in size to overwinter, and reduce humidity.

Protect from cold

  • Before the first frosts, move tender perennials such as Marguerites and Begonias to a cool, sunny spot indoors.
  • Before the first frost, bring in house plants that spend the summer outside such as Jasmine, Oleander and Passion Flower. Check them first for pests or diseases, and spray if necessary. Lift Dahlia tubers and Gladioli corms, dry and cut off the leafy growth, then store in dry boxes.
  • Move house plants away from windows – especially single-glazed ones – when frosty nights threaten. Closing the curtains at night prevents warm room air from reaching the plants.
  • If you are leaving shrubs, such as Sweet Bay or Lavender, outdoors in pots move them to a sheltered, sunny spot. If hard frost threatens, lag the pot with a layer of straw, sacking, a blanket or polythene. Protect the roots further with a mulch of peat or leaf mould.

Prune and take cuttingsrambler-rose

If you have a Rambler Rose on your patio, prune out old wood after flowering is over. Once leaves fall, prune any deciduous shrubs that have grown too big. In early autumn, take cuttings of Pelargoniums, Lavender and Flame Nettle. Use non-flowering shoots, 7.5– 10cm (3-4 inches) long. Remove the lower leaves and plant in cutting compost. Keep barely moist and cool.

Plants for special consideration

Keep short-term flowering plants that you buy in autumn well-watered. These include ‘Pot Mums’, Cape Heath, Cinerarias and Calceolarias. Don’t feed them, as their potting mixture contains enough food for them until they finish flowering, when you can then discard them. Longer-term flowering plants, such as Azalea, also need regular watering now, but use soft, lime-free water. You could also use distilled water.

Tropical plants

Some tropical plants, such as African Violets, the Chenille Plant and Flamingo Flower, need warmth, high humidity and water all year round to mimic their tropical home. Others such as Gardenia and Goldfish Plant, need less watering from autumn until spring, but still require high humidity and a warm environment.

Planting out

Instead of bringing Miniature Rose house plants in for winter, put them out! Bury the pot in the soil, or protect with lagging of peat, until next January, when you can then bring it indoors to flower.

Potting up bulbs for forcing

Plant specially prepared Christmas Hyacinths and Narcissi now. You can force ordinary Hyacinths, Daffodils and Tulips, but they will flower later. Using bulb fibre, plant 2.5cm (1 inch) deep, but plant Hyacinths with their tips showing. Keep in a cool, dark place for 2-3 months. Check them regularly and water lightly only when dry. When leafy shoots are 2.5cm (1 inches) high, move them to a cool, light spot, and keep well-watered. Pot up specially prepared Christmas Hippeastrums now, singly in a 10cm (4 inches) pot. Keep them warm, light and steadily moist.

Miniature Rose should be buried, still in its pot, in the garden until January, when it can then be brought in.

Starting up Cyclamen

If you kept last year’s Cyclamen resting and dry over the summer months, autumn is the time to start it into growth. Carefully shake off the old potting mixture, and re-pot in the same container using fresh potting mixture. Bury the tuber to half its depth, water lightly, and bring into a cool, bright room. Water steadily and new leaves should soon appear.

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