The Cranky Gardener

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Love Me Tender1

If you're like me you love plants with big colourful foliage. I can't imagine a shady bed without Caladiums, Elephant Ears, Coleus, Crotons and bronze-leaf Begonias. I became addicted to them when we lived in Texas. Now I'm convinced that I can't garden without them. And what is a sunny border without Dahlias?

Using these plants was much easier in my zone 8 'just a few miles up the road from zone 9' Texas garden than it is now in my zone 6 'can throw a stone and hit zone 5' Missouri garden. Now I have to lift my tender bulbs and tubers and store them over the winter. Not only is this a lot of work, they take up a lot of storage space and finding just the right place with just the right temperature for storage is a real challenge.

The Coleus and Seed Begonias, both annuals, are left outside to freeze. Since I have a particularly pretty Coleus, I'll pinch off a few branches and put them into a Mason jar to root then set them out in the spring. Crotons need to be dug and potted and brought inside for the winter. This year I'll leave them outside as well. I hate to say goodbye to old friends, but they are very old and woody and are at the end of their life span. I'll take cuttings – something I've never tried with Crotons – and attempt to propagate them. Otherwise, I'll have to start over next spring with hot house plants from a local nursery.

This leaves Caladiums, Elephant Ears, both green and purple, Tuberous Begonias and Dahlias to be lifted and stored. It is best to wait until the foliage begins to turn brown before you dig them. Trim off any remaining foliage and flower stalks then lay them on newspapers and let them air dry for a week or so. Brush off any remaining soil, and your bulbs and roots are ready to store.

You will need some sulphur to prevent fungus, a medium of some kind to keep them separated and insulated, and containers. I have, at various times, used vermiculite, peat moss, sawdust, sand and wood shavings. I don't think one works better than another. Use whatever is convenient.

Some people use paper bags to store bulbs, and it works well for them, but I prefer boxes. It is easier to keep the bulbs separated in boxes and makes layering easier. If you have room, make sure that the bulbs don't touch each other. Put a layer of dry peat (what I'm using this year) into the box. Then place your bulbs into the peat, dust with sulphur, and cover with more peat and repeat. (Sorry, I couldn't help myself.)

Your bulbs need to stay dry but not dry out. So, it is a good idea to check them three or four times during the winter. If they look like they are beginning to shrivel, sprinkle them with a little water. If they are soft and look like they are rotting, throw them out immediately.

Bulbs can be placed into an unheated closet, a cool root cellar, a garden shed that stays above freezing, or even the refrigerator if you have enough room. I've had good luck using Styrofoam ice chests and leaving them on my back porch covered by a tarp. When the temperatures are scheduled to dip below 20ºF, I bring them inside.

If you grow Cannas, they also need lifted in cold climates. I adore Cannas but don't have any right now. My neighbour has several varieties that she has planted near our property line. So, I get to enjoy them without the work of growing them.

Of course, if you can afford it, you can treat your tender bulbs as annuals and just replace them every year. But if you do this, you will miss out on the satisfaction of having your bulbs (and therefore your plants) increase in size and beauty each year.

If you are in a climate where a freeze is eminent, then you need to really soak your trees, shrubs and hardy perennials now, before the ground freezes. Plants need water during the winter, even when dormant. When the ground freezes it locks up the water, which creates a drought situation around the roots. This can injure or even kill your plants. So give them a good long drink now.

It's also time to be thinking about mulch. In cold climates you need to add between 6 and 8 inches of a good organic mulch to your beds after the ground freezes. The mulch will act like a blanket and will prevent the soil from repeated freezing and thawing with the resultant heaving of plants and bulbs to the surface. It also conserves moisture and protects your plants from the wind.

The only things left to protect are two small fig trees in my back garden. I will put a wire cage around them and fill the cage with straw and leaves. Last winter I covered them with burlap, but that wasn't particularly effective. So, I'm trying the cages this year.

Since this is the time of year for baseball playoffs and football tailgate parties, I've decided to share the recipe for my husband's favourite snack mix. It's incredible easy and is a nice change of
pace from the traditional cereal-based mixes. I make a batch of this a couple of times each fall and take to the gang at work. It always disappears in a hurry.

Oyster Cracker Snack Mix


  • (2) 11 ounce packages of oyster crackers
  • 1 package of Hidden Valley Original salad dressing
  • 1 ½ cups of canola oil
  • 2 Tablespoons of dill seed (can use dill weed)
  • ¼ - ½ teaspoon each of garlic power, onion powder and lemon pepper

In a large bowl, mix all ingredients except the crackers. Blend well. Add the crackers and stir until coated. Spread on a large cookie sheet. (Makes enough to fill two jelly roll pans.) Bake at 250ºF - 130ºC, Gas Mark ½ - for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Or, place in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high for 2 minutes, stir, and microwave on high for another 2 minutes. Spread on paper towels to cool.

The Cranky Gardener


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1Plant names capitalised for clarity.

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