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Your outdoor garden indoors

October 12, 2003|by Dorry Baird Norris

Killer Frost is lurking. He's ready to pounce and lay waste to everything delicate thing in his path. When the frost warning aired last week, I was relieved that the tender plants that will be spending the winter in the house were already potted up and ready to haul inside.

Getting them inside is one thing - finding a place for all of them is yet another. Over the years, I have resigned myself to the fact these tender babies will not really flourish in the house. So my goal has become to just keep them alive. Oh, they look fine when they come in, but by the first of the year they'll start looking like waifs.

Several weeks ago I wrote that I don't feed the big tender plants that spend the summer in their own pots, then winter inside. Now I am eating humble pie. Even though they had been fertilized regularly during the growing season, late summer rains leached the nutrients out of the soil. The pomegranate, the orange and the bay tree looked pretty pale and peaked as they sat mournfully in the kitchen. Their leaves had an alarming yellow cast. So they got a good meal and a choice spot in the front window.

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Weeds always settle in on the topsoil of the big potted plants and flourish. This year I dug them out carefully, then I cut pieces of landscape fabric to fit over the soil - with an opening for the tree trunk, of course - in hopes that this will keep the weed seeds from sprouting.

A layer of stones on the saucer under the pots keeps them from sitting in water. If the saucers have a little water in them, it provides much needed moisture to the plants so they can survive the desert-dry indoor climate. The added humidity also helps to discourage red spider mites. If you have a collection of seashells, they work too - and they look lovely in the saucer. Another alternative is to use your broken clay pots. Put the shards on a board, cover with a cloth and hammer away to your heart's content until the pieces are small enough so when placed in the bottom of the saucers the pots will sit level.

Since hope springs eternal, I did pot up a rosemary for the house. Who knows? This may be the year it survives indoors. For now, the rosemary is settled into a spot where it will get plenty of light but no direct sun. Perhaps it will do better without the extreme temperature fluctuations a sunny window provides.

Of course, there is still outdoor work left to be done. Lots of things have been moved around since spring. Even though most of the plants have labels, I will make a sketch of the garden to show where everything is. Snow, freezing and thawing of the ground and curious critters can raise havoc with your carefully placed labels.

If you're thinking of mulch, gravel is the mulch of choice for things like lavender, rosemary, thyme and sage. Gravel drains more quickly than organic mulch.

While doing a bit of hoeing to loosen up the mulch in the other parts of the garden, I found a good many grubs. It may be worth your while to loosen up the blanket of mulch throughout the garden to check for grubs. Toss them in some soapy water made with laundry soap until they shrivel and expire.

If you've planted seeds it's handy if you cover them with the open work plastic baskets that fruit or vegetables come in. This protects seedlings from dangerous critters - including you, when you start working in the garden next spring.

Jack Frost may be knocking at the door but the lavender, rosemary, alkanet, Grootendorst roses and sweet alyssum are blooming. This has been a fine garden year. Now that the garden has been put to bed it's time for a break - for you and for us. Our next column will be on the Sunday before Thanksgiving when we'll introduce you to the Pilgrim Mothers and their garden in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

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