Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Basement Trials and Triumphs

Except for Bloom Day posts over the winter, I haven't updated what's been happening in the basement. Most of the winter I did little except water. I've been a little busier playing down there now that spring's here.

I've read it's not easy overwintering hydrangea cuttings, although nowhere I googled really explained why. I suspect it might have something to do with their dormancy needs. The only one that thrived in the basement over the winter was Nikko Blue. Dark green and healthy all winter, I removed a number of buds and blooms so it would focus it's growth on roots and foliage. It's now planted out in a protected spot where it will be kept evenly moist from where the sump pump ejects, not far from where a new Oakleaf hydrangea went in last week. Both appear happy in their new home. The tubing from the sump pump has nail holes poked into it along the bottom side so it keeps a good-sized area nicely moist but not wet. I hope it will prove a good spot for a few moisture-loving hydrangeas. It's a very well-sheltered spot too, which I think they'll like over the winter.

Here's the largest of one variety of hydrangea:

This one is also the healthiest of it's variety. It's amazing to me as tiny as they are, they too are budding.

This one and three others are chlorotic and have been given some acid fertilizer. Hopefully they make it. Amazingly this tiny, anemic hydrangea is budding as well.

Annabelle has been least happy in the basement. One that I planted out last weekend already has been chewed to the ground by something, probably a dastardly rabbit. I think I'll wait to put the others out when more is up and green for them to chew on, and hope they confine themselves to the lawn. Liquid fence is my friend and I may get out there with it in the next day or two (if the rain ever stops.) The bunnies seem to be ravenous and have been wreaking plenty of havoc, even eating hellebore blooms. It's probably pregnant females nourishing more spawn to eat more garden. They probably noticed the new veggie bed and are getting ready to enjoy the free salad bar with the kids.

Double impatiens cuttings were started in January and the largest is budding. Several susceptible plants in the basement were attacked by spider mites including these and the hydrangeas. I think they hitched a ride inside on some once-gorgeous sweet potato vines - I've read that spider mites are a problem on them indoors.

Live and learn - I won't be overwintering them next year unless it's just the tubers. Fortunately I think the mites are under control now. I did a lot of showering of foliage and wiping of larger leaves and plant stems. I even resorted to an organic pesticide to save a few of the worst-infested plants. I hated to do it - organic or not I never use pesticides. You can see the mites even went after the impatiens, but they're recovering and looking good in spite of the attack.

I overwatered the Christmas cactus and it rotted. Before it was completely lost I rooted cuttings, and they're doing fine. Off to the right, you can barely see some veggie seedlings. There are several varieties of peppers and tomatoes growing happily under my industrial-strength light. Since the light is so powerful they're growing fine even down on the floor.

This is a gardenia with sentimental value. It was a gift from the Lawn Man when were dating. I knew it was pot bound and tried to get it out to repot it, but it was stuck so I gave up. Over the winter, the roots were rotting and my once-beautiful gardenia was dying. I performed surgery, cutting it out of the pot. I found the drain holes were blocked and the soil was sodden. It really looked dead, but I didn't give up on it. I pruned the roots and branches and repotted it. A month later, the patient is slowly recovering. It's a shadow of it's former self but I'm glad it survived. The new growth is glossy and green.

I've never tried starting cucumbers and squash early, following conventional wisdom to direct-sow the seeds. But it's fun to experiment so I've got a few of them started. Here's a Kuri squash that's outgrown it's original peat plug. It's in a 4 1/2" pot now. I'll bump them up as needed, and compare their performance with the ones I'll direct-sow later this spring. Experimenting is part of the fun of gardening!

There are five hanging baskets overwintering in the basement. All the plants were removed, cut back, and root-pruned a few weeks ago. Reducing their size will help insure the baskets don't dry out too much between waterings over the summer. Everything was replaced into the baskets after renewing the soil and adding some mushroom compost. I killed the variegated begonia over the winter - probably too much water, but it paid off overwintering it the first year and was beautiful last summer. I'd like to find another one - they're great in baskets and very tolerant of dry soil.

The sixth hanging basket was my beautiful fuchsia. Another casualty, it may have succumbed to the spider mites. We've had a hanging-basket fuchsia all five years I've lived here. The last one overwintered happily in the basement last year, but I wasn't so lucky this time. There WILL be another this spring - they bring hummingbirds to the patio and I'm determined to capture them on film this summer. They love the fuchsias. The garden attracts them too, but I like them up-close-and-personal on the patio. They tease me by flying off if I make a move for the camera. If I sit perfectly still they'll entertain me for quite a while as they're enjoying the fuchsia's nectar.

This brugmansia will be a pass-along to Mom. I saw and smelled my first brug growing wild in Mom's garden the first summer after they moved to their zone 4 home around fifteen years ago. It must have grown from a seed. The previous owner was an avid gardener. Mom enjoyed that brug while it lasted that summer. A potted one can be easily overwintered. I think she'll enjoy this seedling from one of my brugs.

I'd have dozens of brugs if I had enough sun, especially if I lived somewhere they were hardy. I can't wait until mine are back outside and blooming. They're beautiful and their heavenly scent is addictive.

There are a bunch of double impatiens started from cuttings here, (seedling veggies are to the left, blackberries and raspberries to the right. The berries weren't propagated - they were actually purchased(!) but it was too chilly to plant them out before now since they're already leafed out. It should be ok to get them out there shortly. I've been pinching the flowers and will do that for the next two years to give the plants time to concentrate on maturing before fruiting.

There's lots more in the basement waiting for warm weather - willow cuttings, lemon balm, elephant ears, geraniums, Diamond Frost euphorbia, caladiums, iresine, Persian shield, ornamental oxalis, begonias and others, and that doesn't include the plants overwintering in sunny windows in our living and dining rooms. I enjoy playing with plants in the basement over the winter, and am thrilled at the start the veggie seedlings are getting. I wasn't sure how they'd like the light, but they seem to be doing fine even all the way down on the floor.

I hope you enjoyed the basement update. I'll be enjoying the fruits and vegetables of my labors and the money saved by keeping lots of tender plants safe over the winter. In spite of the spider mites and a few losses this winter, overall, basement gardening adventures and experiments are proving fun and worthwhile!


  1. Hi Linda, a very thorough and enjoyable update. I grieve for your losses and celebrate the victories along with you. Spider mites are so destructive, as well as mama bunnies hungry with child. The hummingbird anecdote rings a bell here too. I have given up with the camera, it doesn't have enough zoom anyway, and will just enjoy them at the feeder. A lady at a nursery we visited last weekend said it was time to hang the feeders. I came home and did, within an hour a hummer was there and has been a regular customer since. Happy days! :-)

  2. Dear Dr. Linda (haha!)..you sure have the skill and patience for plant revival..I know I wouldn't! Great job on bringing back the gardenia :) Amazing those tiny cuttings of hydrangeas have buds and I can't wait to see your brugs in bloom.

  3. Thank you Frances!

    This is the first time I've had bug problems on plants indoors (except fungus gnats, and sticky traps take care of them.)

    I'm determined to get a hummer on film. I have, but the shots were so blurry they were deleted. Our feeder was nourishing more yellow jackets than hummers, so I had to removed it. I may look for an anti-wasp feeder if such a thing exists. We won't be seeing hummers around here for another few weeks probably. I always look forward to their return!

    LOL Lynn!

    It's amazing those hydrangeas survived. They've defoliated and come back more than once, and a couple of them died back completely then regrew from the roots.

    I'm looking forward to the brugs blooming too! They are very thirsty, hungry plants, but giving them what they want is so worth it for those blooms! As long as they get a steady supply of organic fertilizer and water during the summer, they should perform nicely. Japanese beetles go after the foliage, but seem to leave the blooms alone.

  4. Hi Linda, I'm so impressed with everything you've been overwintering down there. The sum total of my like efforts are keeping a mum alive that I didn't get the chance to plant late last fall, but it's in a pot on my plant shelf. In fact, my basement is so plantfree that when I hear "basement update" I thought maybe you were now printing your own cash or were going to give an update about some monsters down there (HA HA!). It is cool that such small hydrangea are budding. And Kuri has its true leaves!

  5. Dear Linda, Wow! There is a small nursery in your basement....and you have had great success over all! A few losses, but a great save with the gardenia! Don't you love their fragrance! I have not seen bunnies in my garden but the squirrels have been horrid! They are biting the flower buds and flowers off the plants. Such distruction...They climbed up onto the suet feeder and cleaned it out! Bad rats!

    Let me know if you would like me to send you Senecio aureus...

    Have a fun day!


  6. I'm impressed! You go, girl!

  7. Wow Linda - that is quite the nursery you have in your basement. About how many hours a week are you down there tending to all those plants?!!

    I have LOTS of rabbit problems but never have they gone after my Annabelle's - even when they have nice new spring growth. However, they have no problem going after my marigolds which you would think they wouldn't like. I loathe the!

    Liquid Fence is my friend too!

  8. Awesome update. I was wondering how they were doing. I too killed some begonias. Urgh! It's fabulous you were able to save that gardenia.

  9. What a beautiful set-up down there! You should be very proud with everything that's thriving/surviving after such a long winter! I know how disappointing it is to lose things to overwatering; I've almost killed my Christmas cactus the same way!

  10. I do need to pick up a hydrangea. Mine died last year when I didn't realize the sprinklers weren't going off properly on the side of the house I seldom go over to. But they're such magical plants when they flower. I think you have way beyond a simple green thumb!

  11. Funny you should mention monsters Monica - I think those Kuri squash might become monsters and take over the basement before long. Maybe that's why it's better to direct-sow them!

    Yep, it's my own personal nursery Gail! Maybe it's the squirrels wreaking all the havoc. I wouldn't put it past the ingrates. I guess that's the thanks I get for feeding them over the winter! humph!

    Thank you for offering to send me Senecio aureus! I would love to have one of your favorites growing in my garden!

    Thanks K&V!

    Hi Beth - less time than I spend in the garden, that's for sure!

    Maybe it's the squirrels eating the hydrangeas. They are so destructive around here.

    Thank you Tina! I'm really glad the gardenia survived. Hopefully once it gets back outside it will really take off.

    Thank you Rose! I suspect all that stuff has helped ME thrive/survive the long winter! I didn't know if those cuttings would make it since the plant was in such bad shape by the time I decided that was the only way to save it. I'm glad they did!

    I hope you find the perfect hydrangea Brenda. They are so pretty.

    I think I was born with the green thumb, but some days this root-riddled garden here makes me wonder if I've lost it!

  12. Gardengirl you are a true gardener caring for all these plants during the winter!I don't think I would have the patience! Good for you!You surely have the greenest thumbs..perhaps all your fingers are green! :)

  13. My sympathies on the critter damage to your new baby shrubs. I hope they recover. In rainy weather such as we've just had, I use lots of chickenwire to completely enclose particularly vulnerable plants. I've had a hard time keeping up with the critters too, especially when they attack things they've never attacked before, such as the Tree Peony. I guess it's time to protect everything.

  14. Most impressed with your ambitious basement gardening, Linda! Glad to see another hydrangea lover ... I'm an addict!

  15. Anonymous2:49 PM

    Hi Linda, I guess you never know what plants will overwinter in a basement without some trial & error. Looks you had more successes than failures. :)

  16. You really have a lot of gardening going on in your basement! Great job. :)

  17. Thank you Naturegirl - I do think I have one or two fingers that are somewhat less than green, as evidenced by the stuff I managed to kill over the winter!

    MMD, oh no - I hope that wasn't the new peony you got at the garden show. I can't remember now if you got an herbacious or tree peony. The varmints are going after a new heuchera - everytime it sprouts new leaves the chew them off. I covered it yesterday.

    Thank you Joey! With all the shade here, I'm about to become addicted to hydrangeas too. They are wonderful shrubs, and there are so many varieities.

    Yep Racquel - it's definitely trial and error. I don't worry too much about the relatively few failures, just keep them in perspective with the alternative of leaving everything outside!

    Thanks Meems!

  18. Your post encourages me to try hydrangea cuttings this year. Thank you, Linda!


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