Gardening expert and certified wit Felder Rushing answers your questions and lays down some green-wisdom. You can get more of your Felder fix at www.slowgardening.net.
I planted four mandevilla vines this summer and they’re doing great — beyond great. But now that the weather is getting colder I wonder how to care for these over the winter/colder months.We live in central California — Stockton — near Sacramento. Thanks.
Tropical vines, with their big leaves and oversized flowers, are almost irresistible to gardeners who love bold color. And there are many great ones to plant!
However, although many tropical vines including mandevilla, bougainvillea, and allamanda can survive winter and summer outside along the southern coast and in warmer (frost free) inland areas of California, mandevilla is a little extra sensitive. Even in Stockton, where it doesn’t usually freeze, or for very long, these vines should be brought in every winter. That is, unless you are a gambler and want to try cutting the vines back close to the ground and cover them during frosty periods.
Along these lines, because space in my tiny little greenhouse is precious, only my most valuable or heirloom plants get brought in. So I usually just let my tropical vines go, and get new ones in the spring – they are relatively inexpensive for the value they give in growth and flowers, and even small ones are very fast growing and bloom right from the start.
Go For It
But if yours are in pots or can be put into decorative containers and you want to bring them in, expect them to be messy for a few weeks because the “outdoor” leaves shed pretty quickly. Cut the vines back to bare stems — no leaves left at all — to get the cleanup over with once and for all. The vines will almost immediately start putting out strong new growth that is better adapted to the lower light and low humidity of indoors. Try to place the vines in a sunny window and deflect the heater vent away from the plants to keep humidity as high as possible.
Also, without trying to complicate things more, keep the vines on the dry side in the winter to avoid root rot, and hold back on fertilizer — half strength should keep the vines healthy and happy without pushing them too much indoors.
Come spring, set them back outside and start watering and fertilizing a little more.
If you want to gamble on the winter being whatever “normal” is these days, just cut your vines back right before a predicted frost, and during the cold nights cover with a tent made of plastic or lightweight fabric, just enough to trap the heat from the ground and keep cold wind and frost off the plants. Because these vines bloom non-stop on new growth, cutting them back only stimulates stronger, thicker, more floriferous growth.
Try Other Things
By the way, there are some other great flowering vines for your area which can take light frosts, including calico flower (sometimes called pelican flower), butterfly vine, native trumpet vine and passion flower . Contact your county extension office or visit a nearby botanical garden for more ideas on low-care flowering vines.
I seem to have done something to offend the birds in my neighborhood because very few are showing up at my feeder. Should I just give up until next year?
No — keep it up! Birds, especially native songbirds, tend to come and go at feeders according to the availability of natural food. Something somewhere is laden with berries or other enticements, but “your” birds will come back home when the going gets rough.
I love the color, motion and even drama that birds bring to my deck as they queue and posture. My bird feeder is a simple vinyl pot saucer nailed to the top of a fence post (with a flattened bottle cap as a washer, to keep the feeder from tipping over when birds land on the rim). I don’t use fancy blends or mixes, just plain old “black oil“ sunflower seed, which seems to attract enough different kinds of birds.
We even put water out for birds in the winter (again, in a vinyl pot saucer) — they appreciate a clean drink on cold days when water may not be available otherwise.
Coming and Going
And keep in mind that in addition to the usual year-round feathered citizens, there is usually a big seasonal shift change as some summer migrants leave for other climates, only to be replaced by winter birds coming in from afar. Those that are leaving, and those that are arriving, will all be hungry and in need of some energy. So keep your feeders stocked and wait for the fickle visitors to return.