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What is an Annual and Can I Bring It In?

Published: Thu Sep 26th 2013

Ok, my annuals are starting to get cold. It’s about time to bring in the ones I’d like to save.

A bit about “annuals”. There are basically four types of plants sold as annuals.

1). True annuals: These plants complete their lifecycle from seed to seed in one growing season. Think marigolds, or petunias. These will not do particularly well if brought into the house. The only way to keep them going would be to cut off the flowers as soon as they are finished to “trick” them into not setting seed and dying.

2).­Tender perennials:­ Theses are the ones worth saving. They would be hardy in the ground if we lived somewhere warmer, like the Bahamas. Think mandevilla vines and banana trees. My first exposure to lantana was as a 3-foot-tall shrub hedge around my apartment complex in Florida. Imagine my surprise when I moved back to PA and found it in 4” pots sold as an annual. Others worth saving would include shrimp plant, hibiscus, and tibouchina. My late grandmother had a gnarled, woody geranium in her house that was older than I was.

3). Reseeding annual­: This group may trick you into thinking they are perennials, because they reseed so readily they often come back in the same spot year after year. But they are true annuals. Think verbena, impatiens, melampodium, cosmos. Don’t try to save them. They save themselves. You can collect seed to start indoors if you like, but if you just wait until the ground warms a bit in late May/June, and don’t weed aggressively, they will come back by themselves.

4).Tropical bulbs, tubers and corms: This group stores nutrients in a fleshy root underground. Think caladiums, elephant ears, and dahlias. With dahlias, wait until the first killing frost, and the foliage has died back. Then wait a week and dig them up, shake off the dirt and store them in a cardboard box in the basement packed in sawdust or peat moss. Don’t allow them to freeze in a shed or garage outside. Same for tuberous begonias and cannas.

For caladiums and elephant ears, they must be dug before a hard frost. Elephant ears can be potted and just kept as a houseplant over the winter. Water lightly, and fertilize sparingly. Set them out in the spring after danger of frost. Caladiums require a rest period. Dig them up before frost and bring them indoors to dry and store in peatmoss. Must be above 50-60F. They will die in a cold basement. They can also be replanted next spring after danger of frost has passed and soil has warmed.

Now that you have figured out what kind of plants to save and what to say “goodbye” to, here is a primer. If it is in full sun in a container or in the ground, move it to the porch for a week or so to reduce the light exposure. This will help it make the transition into a lower light level in the house.

Give it a bath. Wash the leaves and stems in warm soapy water to remove any hitchhiking bugs. Inspect the roots as well. If it is infested, save yourself some heartache and pitch it in the compost pile. Get a fresh one next spring. I have wasted valuable window space on things that I thought I could clean up and ended up pitching, still buggy, the following spring.

This would also be a good time to prune your plant a bit. Removing the top growing portion (apical meristem) sends a hormonal signal to the rest of the plant to get bushier and fuller. This will fight against its natural urge to get tall and spindly inside under lower light.

Find a sunny window, but not in a large draft where chill injury can occur over the winter. If you are bringing in pointsettias or Christmas/Thanksgiving cactus, put them in an unused room where you won’t be turning on the lights after dark. This will help them color up and bloom naturally during the appropriate season.

Phew. Now it’s time to go dig those bananas.