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Written by Wally Richards. 19th May 2007

Winter can be a tough time for plants that grow in containers either outside or  indoors, unless you take some special care of them.
Before we look at the problems these plants face, let us consider the difference between plants growing in the garden and the ones in containers.
Garden plants have nature to look after them, sunlight, rain and the soil provide for their basic needs.
It is only during times of low rainfall that you need to assist in keeping them alive with regular waterings.
There are other functions that you provide such as preventing them from choking out each other with a bit of pruning, removal of competing plants (weeds), staking against damage from wind and providing extra nourishment as need be.
By in large most of the time plants in the garden can fend for themselves with what nature and the weather provides.
When we take a plant and place it in a container, we become very responsible for its well being.
Outdoor container mixes dry out quickly during the summer and daily or even twice daily waterings maybe needed. During wet times we need to ensure that the outdoor container plants have free drainage if they are rained on. This means removing any saucers and raising the containers off the ground with a couple of slats of wood.
Over the next few months, without rain, you are likely to be only giving these containers an occasional light watering, maybe once or twice a week.
Indoor plants are much more dependant on your care as they have a harder life because many of them are living in a space where there is no natural overhead light.
In most homes, light comes only through windows and dependant on which direction a window faces will determine the amount of light the plant receives. Windows facing north obtain the most direct light where east and west facing windows are likely to receive only half as much direct light in a day.
South facing windows receive little if any direct light from the sun. These same rooms will be the coolest or coldest rooms in the house dependant on the time of the year.
A plant sitting in front of a window facing either west, north or east will receive very good light in summer and only a fraction of that in winter. If you have a sun screen curtain across the window, you have likely reduced the amount of light the plant receives by half. Move a plant a metre or more away from a window then the amount of direct light drops off. The futher away the less light which becomes then reflected light.
We all have seen plants that are stretching towards the window to gain more light, becoming ungainly and weak. There is a big selection of different types of house plants each with a different requirement for the amount of light it receives. A general rule of thumb is the plants with the largest leaves will survive better in lessor light situations compared to smaller leaf plants. Most flowering plants require plenty of direct light to be able to produce buds and have those buds open. If you have an indoor flowering plant and it either does not produce flower buds or the buds fail to open, falling off after forming, then the plant is telling you it needs more light.
In winter the light situation becomes even worse for indoor plants. The hours of natural light are shorter and the sun is at a lower position in relation to the horizon. Plants need light to grow and as the amount of light decreases so their growth slows or stops. Indoor plants do receive a bit of extra light from us when we turn the light switch on after dusk. If we are using the new power saving lights then the type of light the plants receive is better suited to their requirements compared to the incandescent lights.
When indoor plants are receiving less light their needs for moisture greatly reduces.
This is a key point at this time of the year and one of the main causes of plants dying.
Wet potting mix in cool weather means root rots, which cause leaves to fall and likely a loss eventually of that plant.
So in winter you must be very careful with your watering of indoor plants.
You need to check every plant every few days and basically only give them a little drink when the foliage starts to droop through lack of moisture. (Beware also that plants that are too wet will also have drooping foliage and to give them more water is likely to be fatal.)
Plant food is not needed for house plants at this time of the year unless they are flowering or still actively growing. Wait till the plants start showing signs of new growth in the spring before you start to feed again.
Avoid repotting into larger containers in winter as this also can cause wet feet till the roots once again fill the container.
You are the care giver of your container plants both indoors and outside so be aware of their needs and look after them accordantly.

Gardeners that have problems in the lawn with either of these two pests should take note that both are coming up towards maturity at this time and will do the maximum amount of damage.
With porina caterpillars, they live in the soil and come out after dusk to feed at the base of your grasses.
They are fairly easy to control with a spray of Neem Tree Oil. This should be applied late in the day to the lawn after it has been recently mowed. Repeat again about 4 weeks later.
Grass grubs on the other hand are much more difficult to control and dependant on the size of your lawn  a more expensive job. Likely there is little need to treat the whole lawn with a control as the biggest number of the grubs will be where there has been problems in the past. This is also true in areas where they are lite after dark, by street lights or security lighting. In my book, Wally’s Down to Earth Gardening Guide I give an excellent way to control the pest in early summer when the adults are on the wing.
Before you start to spend your money to treat the lawn you should check to see how many grubs are in the lawn. This is done by cutting several small squares with the spade and lifting the turf. Examine both the hole and lifted section for the number of grubs. If there are none or only a few then it is not worth worrying about. (Use the summer control of the beetles) But if a good number is found then that area should be treated.
There are two treatments that you can use and the first of these is Neem Tree Granules sprinkled on the lawn and lightly watered in. The granules break down and release the Neem properties which are taken up by the roots. When a treated root is chewed on by a grub, that will be the last bite it ever takes.
Safe for pets and wildlife including birds as Neem only harms insect pests.
For those gardeners that like to use a strong chemical then use Pyrifos G. It too is a granule that is spread at the rate of 2 grams per square metre. (Needs to be applied with a spreader)
It is a strong poison and you need to take great care in handling and prevent pets and children from using the target area till it is well absorbed into the soil.
Diazinon is another chemical treatment but does not work well in all soil types (best used only in light, sandy or volcanic soils) otherwise it can be a costly exercise for no advantage.
The utmost care must be taken if using either of these two chemical products.

Problems ring me at 0800 466 464 (Palmerston North 3570606)
Web site www.gardenews.co.nz

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