By Glenn DiNella
When my wife and I refinished the oak floors in our ranch home last year, the thought of leaving water rings concerned us. So we banished my beloved tropicals to the basement rec room for the winter, where the low light levels slowly knocked them off. Eventually my fiddle-leaf fig, bird-of-paradise and Swiss cheese plants (Monstera deliciosa) were all gone.
But I have found a new way to let my basement feed my gardening passion in winter: I use it as a low-light greenhouse. I’ve discovered that the geraniums I used to toss on the compost heap every fall can survive in the basement for the winter.
I cut back on their watering to about once every two weeks and just let them have a dormant resting stage. In late February I cut back the geraniums, pull off dead foliage, start feeding with a liquid fertilizer and water more regularly. I set them on the patio in March, although I have to keep an eye out for freezing nighttime temperatures and sometimes bring them back inside for the night. By May I have beautiful, healthy plants.
Each fall I also overwinter containers filled with assorted sedums that are subject to cold-weather damage. I cut way back on their water and fertilizer. Although they tend to get lanky, the sedums fare well in the basement. Then, when I don’t feel like gardening outdoors, I can pull a pot off my garden bench or perhaps treat myself to a new container from the Lowe’s garden center before repotting some of the sedums.
I break off bits from my leggy sedum and stick them into pots filled with potting mix. Sometimes I plant them in a hole-free plastic pot and insert that into a more attractive container. Sedums are famously adept at rooting, so it’s an easy chore. The cuttings might look a little sparse immediately after planting, but they’ll be nice and full by midsummer. And by next winter you’ll be ready to pot up more cuttings.
Another winter gardening project I like to do is purchase an orchid and slip it into a bright-color indoor pot. Look for an orchid with some unopened buds at the tip. (See opening photo.) That way you’re assured of getting more blooms as the old ones fade and drop off. Tuck some sphagnum moss or Spanish moss around the orchid to hide the inner pot. Add a card and a box of chocolates for a great Valentine’s Day present.
Cyclamens also are good for this since they bloom in bright pinks and often are available in February. You can always go the dozen-red-roses-from-the-florist route, but a living plant is a much better way to celebrate your life together.