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Winter's On the Way! Make Plans NOW
Winter's On the Way! Make Plans NOW
For Plants in Pots and Other TenderStuff!

Question. Hi, Mike: I love your show;great advice! Now, I need some on how to winter over the two daturaplants I purchased this spring. They're perennials, I'm told, and doingfine right now, but I hear they die in winter if left outside. Whatshould I do? I travel a lot during winter and can't tend them properlyas houseplants. Can I dig them up, pot them up & put them in thebasement?  If so, do I not water them at all until spring?  

They produce seed from prickly balls,which burst open when dry. If Igather the seed in the burst pods, will they produce new plants if Iplant the seed in spring?  Do I need to put that seed in therefrigerator in a plastic bag in peat, or what?  Thanks for anyhelp.
                              ---Judy from Princeton, NJ

Answer. Hey—thank YOU, Judy; this isthe perfect time of year to talk about plants that are too tender toleave outside for the winter.

But first, a warning. Your daturas (scientific name Brugmansia) aregreat plants. They can grow in very wet areas and their beautifultubular flowers deliciously scent the night air. But those flowers (andevery other part of the plant) are so poisonous you'd likely hear itsother common name—Angel's Trumpet—if you chowed down on a flower or aleaf. Daturas should not be grown anywhere near children or food plants(a little sap or nectar dripped onto a strawberry below could make youreally sick) and you should always wear gloves when handling them.

OK? Now, if you were one of ourSouthern listeners, you wouldn't haveto do anything. But you have heard correctly—in your Zone 6 garden,this semi-tropical plant (and many other garden favorites planted byunsuspecting growers) will perish overwinter. You could dig it up andpot it up IF you were willing to keep it going as a houseplant overwinter. But most people don't bother; they simply treat it as an annualflower—which would be especially easy for you, cause you're alreadyplanning on saving the seeds.

To do that, let those pods dry asbrittle as can be, and then harvestthem at the end of a nice, long dry spell. Let them dry some moreindoors and then seal the dry seeds up in a glass jar with some ofthose silica gel packets you get in vitamin bottles and keep it in acool, dry, dark place. (NOT the fridge; too damp!) This basic adviceapplies to almost all saved seeds, except tomatoes, which are special.Anyway, datura seeds don't need the cold treatment you're describing,but a very nice site,,warns that they are covered by a corky coating. So before you startthem next Spring, soak the seeds in water for 24 hours and that stuffshould come off.

OK; general rules for tender plants.Woody, shrubby things too tropicalto survive your winters—like citrus and bay leaf trees—should really begrown in pots. No plant enjoys being transplanted a couple of times ayear, and planting in pots will also keep them smaller, making themmore manageable when you have to bring them in for the winter.

If you're going to pot up ANY plantcurrently in the ground for wintersalvation, get started NOW. In the evening, make a big circle aroundthe plant with a sharp shovel, lift it out of the ground, pot it upkeeping as much of the root ball intact as possible, water it well andthen leave it outside (NOT in direct sun) for a few weeks to let it getover the shock. Then, before frost, choose one of the following threeoptions:

•    Wash the leavesreally well several days in a rowwith sharp streams of water to get rid of any buggy wuggies and bringthe plants indoors to a solarium or sunny windowsill. Depending on theplant, the amount of sun and your latitude, it might bloom and growover winter, but more likely it will go kind of dormant. Either way,water it on the light side and give it no food other than some dilutecomposttea (if you must); plants inwinter don't need food and can'tuse much water. This is your only choice for things like bay leaf andcitrus trees.
You Bet Your Garden  ©2004 Mike McGrath