We’ve officially had the first frost of the year which means I had to put on my big girl pants and accept that summer is really and truly over. I woke up this morning checked the weather to find that it was 20 degrees Fahrenheit (that’s -6 Celsius to the rest of the world). I’m questioning the accuracy of the whole weather app, though, because it also said that our air quality index was 500 on a scale of 0 – “This is just fine,” to 500 – “Is this even air?” in just this little bubble of southwest Missouri, complete with a little hazard symbol. I’m not saying the air quality here is pristine, but for reference, the same app says that Los Angeles is currently at 62. (Don’t worry, Mom, I checked other sources and we’re actually closer to 20). And while it was cold enough that one could say, with appropriate hyperbole, that the temperature was hazardous, jumping right to the top of the scale on pollution seems extreme.
We may still get a few uncomfortably warm days now that we’ve pulled the sweaters and flannels out of storage, but it’s time to face the facts. I can accept the cooler weather because even while the reduced daylight already has me a little mopey, I do love the increased opportunities to wear hoodies, especially when walking Pippin. I have reached the level of wisdom where I will only purchase leggings if they have pockets, but my unwieldy wad of keys is uncomfortable even the stretchiest of spandex, so having that big kangaroo pocket on the front of a cozy hoodie is a relief and a joy.
But my plants can’t wear hoodies all winter long (but, OMG, wouldn’t that be so cute?). Let’s be real, if plant hoodies were a thing (and this is the internet, I’m sure I’d find them if I looked hard enough), I probably would be too lazy to go and dress all my outdoor plants like that. I’m already too lazy to throw a sheet over them when we have a late spring frost. Lacking plant parkas, I had to assess my options for wintering my plants, deciding who would be sacrificed to the winter temperatures, who I could bear to risk, and who must be carted inside. (Strict grammarians will probably argue that each of those relative pronouns should have been “which” but I’m going with “who” because plants are people too. I mean, no, strictly speaking, they’re not people, but I’ve projected personalities onto them, and they’re the quiet sort of company that I can really handle in my introversion, so my chlorophylled friends are “who.”)
I said my goodbyes to my flowering annuals who will stay outside for the last few pollinators to work until they succumb to the cold. Similarly, the overgrown herbs will stay outside. I brought in most of my succulents a few weeks ago and set them up with a grow light, since they get a little light starved even out in the yard in the summer. The hibiscus bloomed through the winter in a pot by the dining room windows last year, so I’m sticking with that plan. I’m doing the same with my two potted palms, which I have also had good success keeping inside in winters past.
It gets a little trickier with my beloved elephant ears. Most of these are in pots, but not all. The standard accepted method for keeping elephant ears is to dig up the bulbs and keep them wrapped in paper somewhere dark. I have a few in the ground that are sheltered enough that I can leave them buried with an extra layer of mulch. I have tried keeping bulbs wrapped in the basement with a zero percent success rate. Last year I successfully wintered a Black Magic sprout in a pot by the window. I also dug up the larger, parent portion, cut off the greenery and tried to keep the bulb, but when I replanted it, it never came back. Based on that experiment, I’m doing to try to winter the more unique varieties in my dining room, so in addition to the smaller Black Magic from last winter, I also have the Mojito and the smaller of my two Coffee Cups potted by the windows. I also separated and potted smaller shoots from the much bigger and healthier Coffee Cup that was planted in the ground.
This one is the potential loss that I will feel the most. The first year I had a Coffee Cup I tried leaving the bulb in the ground with extra mulch, but it was far less cold tolerant than my “normal” elephant ears and never came back. But this beauty is much too large for me to put in a pot and move inside. With the smaller shoots transplanted for insurance, I suppose I have no choice but to try saving the bulb again and hoping for more success than my previous attempts (including the bulbs I purchased and planted this past spring that never sprouted).
I’m not particularly concerned about the rest of my plants. The other potted elephant ears will hibernate in the basement, still in the pots, after I remove their greenery, which seemed to work well enough last year. As the leaves fall from the trees, I’ll mulch them with the lawnmower and use them as extra insulation on all the plants in the ground.
I also have a few ferns on my porch, which I have mixed feelings about. They have done splendidly this year, so full and lush that they are nearly unrecognizable from the compact little greens I purchased in the spring. I’ve resolved that they’re the only thing I’ll put in those planters each summer from now on. I know ferns can be wintered inside, and gardeners more experienced and enthusiastic than myself would probably tell me this is exactly what I should do. But I must confess: I hate having ferns in the house. They’re pretty, but I can’t keep them without making a monumental mess. My grandmother used to winter a couple ferns in her basement where we grandchildren would play at Christmas and Thanksgiving, and even in her house, always so well kept, the floor around the ferns inevitably looked like someone had dumped a box of cornflakes. I’ve tried keeping them in my basement before (which even in its cleanest state is grungy at best; seriously, most caves are cleaner and more inviting), but I go down there so rarely that anything alive will die of neglect unless it can find its own food and water. So I’ll thank the ferns for their service and let the winter have them. I’ll get new ones next spring.
In the mean time, my dining room has turned into a mini-greenhouse. It has the most windows and space, but it’s still not as bright as the plants would like. It’s a little crowded, maybe even cluttered, but I look at all the varied greenery and I can’t help smiling. Kalen helped me carry everything in and didn’t complain, but he did say he’s making an executive decision that the names of the dining room and the living room should be switched, because we more often eat in the living room, and the dining room has by far the most living things of any room in the house. I hope I can get enough sun through these windows to keep them that way through the winter. We may have to put Christmas ornaments on the palms, though, because I’m not sure we have any room for a pine tree.
The planet insists that we have autumn and bleak winter, and I guess that’s fine, but I’ll do my best to keep my own little pocket of summer alive in my house. And think how clean our air will be, even when there is apparently no air outside at all!