This old gardener, trying to cultivate a kindhearted, live-and-let-live nature, isn’t as benevolent as Nature might prefer.
I need a universal “not welcome” sign that ants, flies, spiders, roaches, lizards, earthworms, slugs and the occasional pencil-size nonvenomous Dekay’s snake can read.
Don’t get me wrong — my cozy two-room cabin is always open to family, friends, invited visitors and mannerly dogs. And even baby possums in temporary need of rescue. However, this time of year, the tiny house, which has barely enough room for potted plants that can’t take freezes if left outdoors, inevitably becomes a haven for little wannabe-wild beasts seeking shelter from the cold. But I’m not quite charitable enough to share my home with four-, six-, eight — or legless critters that don’t play nice indoors.
Case in point: At the end of my life I will want back the time I just spent trying to corral not one but two wayward green anole lizards that had somehow trekked from my sunny plant room, through the bedroom, down the hall, across the kitchen and into my little office. But there they were, sparring behind the window blinds, pumping up and down on their elbows, flaunting strawberry red dewlaps in a bold faceoff over a dead fly.
Finally, with the help of a whisk broom I managed to grab them, without anyone losing their tails, took them outside, made them drink some water in the fish pond, and sent them scurrying off into the ferns. I’m beginning to think I should just put a bottle cap of water in the window and leave the actually harmless mini-dragons to entertain me as they patrol for the flies and spiders that also somehow manage to invade my inner sanctum.
That’s just one of the troubles gardeners have to handle every fall when we drag our tender potted plants in for the winter.
As days get shorter and nights cooler, all sorts of critters start burrowing down into potting soil and end up as inadvertent hitchhikers brought indoors where the warmth brings them back out in pursuit of their summer livelihoods.
To avoid the distractions of having to stop what I am doing to shoo them back outside, I always invest a little proactive time in cleaning the pots before they are brought indoors. Scoop out the fallen leaves, then water really well twice, a few minutes apart, to drive anything lurking down deep up to the surface. This gets most of them.
While I’m at it, I cut some of my plants way back to help them transition indoors better. As anyone who has ever brought a weeping fig, hibiscus, bougainvillea or croton indoors has learned, individual leaves of many tropical plants can’t adjust to changes in light, temperature or humidity, and simply shed.
New growth, meanwhile, comes out well adapted to the new conditions. To balance those two phenomena, the choice is simple: Prune plants to head off the shedding while stimulating new, better acclimated growth, or spend half the winter sweeping up fallen leaves from beneath half-naked plants.
While this neatens and cleans up the plants and potting soil, it of course doesn’t get all the critters. Sometimes they can be scooped or swept out, or caught with an upturned drinking glass.
Sometimes we have to resort to sprays, which I am loathe to do but some of which are relatively safe for indoors.
Today I’m thinking I may just shove my plant closer into a humidity-sharing min-jungle, put out some water, and let critters duke it out; and if any make a run for it, just whisk-broom them back.
Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the “Gestalt Gardener” on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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