Dear Master Gardener: I just purchased a lovely orange flowering plant called Crossandra “Sundance.” Will it last a long time as a houseplant or is it a seasonal plant that doesn’t last long?
Answer: Crossandra “Sundance” is a tropical plant that is native to India and Sri Lanka. In Minnesota it is grown as an annual or houseplant. It is hard to say how long it will last. Like all plants, it will perform best if grown in the right conditions. Place your plant in bright light to promote continuous blooming — but not direct sunlight. Keep it away from a cold window because temperatures below 55 degrees can cause the plant to lose its leaves. Your Crossandra plant needs high humidity to thrive, so place the plant on a tray filled with pebbles and water. Make sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the pot. Water your plant with room temperature water that is on the warm-side, as cold water might shock the roots and kill the plant. Pinching back the showy flowers after they bloom will encourage more blooms. Its common name is firecracker flower because the seed pods that are found after the flower has dried up tend to “explode.” To prevent the seed pods from exploding all over your house, cut the stems back before the seeds form.
November Gardening Tips
- Now that we’ve had snow it might be too late, but if you end up mowing one more time, cut it to 2 inches to reduce the chance of snow mold next spring. Mice and voles will also damage turf and nearby trees and shrubs if they have long grass for food and cover.
- You can dormant seed your lawn in mid-November. The premise is that the seed will remain dormant due to the cold soil conditions, but begin to germinate as soon as the soils start to warm in the spring. This avoids having to prepare the soil when it is still wet and cold in the spring and gives your lawn a head-start of several weeks. Dormant seeding works best when you want to reseed bare soil areas or help thicken up thin lawns.
- If you didn’t get the chance before the recent snowfall (I didn’t get all my fall chores done before the snow), and when it hopefully melts, chop up fallen leaves with your lawn mower and mulch your garden beds with them.
- Protect new and thin-barked trees by surrounding each trunk with a 4-foot-high metal hardware cloth cylinder. Sink it 2 to 3 inches into the ground and about 6 inches away from the trunk. Plastic tree guards are also effective on young trees. If using tree wrap, make sure to remove it promptly in the spring so it doesn’t trap moisture against the trunk.
- Spray deer repellent on trees and shrubs (especially those favored by deer such as arborvitae, burning bush and fruit trees) before feeding begins.
- Help reduce the spread of buckthorn by removing it from your property. Buckthorn is easy to identify in late autumn when most other shrubs have lost their leaves. Buckthorn has green leaves and small clusters of black berries with sharp barbs sparsely spaced. If possible, dig it out. If the plant is large, the DNR recommends cutting the trunk to the ground, then painting the stump (within two hours of cutting) with an herbicide containing triclopyr or glyphosate to prevent re-sprouting. Always follow the instructions on the label for herbicides.
- Spread straw or chopped leaves over newly planted bulbs, marginally hardy (zone 4) perennials, and strawberries by mid-November, even if the soil hasn’t frozen yet (ideally it is best to wait until it freezes.) The purpose of winter mulch is to insulate plant roots from fluctuating soil temperatures and keep them dormant during early spring warm-ups.
- Don’t cut down all of your dead or dormant perennials. Plants such as coneflowers, coreopsis and rudbeckia serve as seed sources for birds that winter in Minnesota. If you cut down plants, leave the stems standing for stem-nesting bees.
- When purchasing potted chrysanthemums for autumn decorating, choose plants with some buds just opening, rather than in full bloom in order to have a longer bloom time. Once the flowers fade, discard the plants because most florist mums are not hardy in our area and won’t survive in Minnesota gardens.
- Create a Thanksgiving centerpiece by gathering seasonal produce. Gourds, squash, miniature pumpkins, ears of popcorn and walnuts in the shell look beautiful when arranged in a basket or wooden tray. Add some backyard finds — sprigs of bittersweet, branches from shrubs and trees (especially those with berries or interesting seed heads) and dried grasses, wildflowers and even weeds.
- Get your houseplants in good shape for winter by cleaning the undersides and tops of leaves and stems to ensure there are no spider mites or insect eggs lurking about. In addition, cleaning the leaves maximizes the potential for light exposure, and thus photosynthesis. Don’t use leaf shine products because they attract dust, give the leaves an unnatural appearance and clog pores. Washing your windows will let in more light for your plants.
- Add long-lasting color to your home with easy to grow flowering plants such as kalanchoe, begonia, cyclamen, phalaenopsis orchid or African violet.
- Bring your amaryllis bulbs out of the dark and place them in a bright window. Cut off dead foliage and water regularly. Flowers typically develop in four to six weeks.
- Drain water from hoses and coil them loosely on the floor so they don’t kink and crack. Shut off hose faucets before freezing temperatures arrive.
- Store liquid chemicals and fertilizers out of the light and in a frost-free location. Granular products need to be kept dry. Seal bags of fertilizer and move them off the garage floor onto a shelf where they won’t get damp and hard over the winter.
- Clean and sharpen your garden tools, then wipe them with a light coating of oil to prevent rust.
You may get your garden questions answered by calling the new Master Gardener Help Line at 218-824-1068 and leaving a message. A Master Gardener will return your call. Or, emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will answer you in the column if space allows.
University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners are trained and certified volunteers for the University of Minnesota Extension. Information given in this column is based on university research.