Q I purchased two small hibiscus plants last spring for our deck. Now both are in the basement under a window with a great southern exposure. The leaves are not as thick as in summer, but they look OK. What can I can do to help their hibernation?
A Hibiscus performs quite nicely as a houseplant if it has enough light, warmth and some humidity. A sunny south window is the ideal place, but if you don't have that you'll need to set up some artificial lighting. This can certainly be done in a basement, as long as it's not too cold. Several shop lamps equipped with fluorescent lights should provide enough light. Be sure to hang the lights so that they are just a few inches above the hibiscus. The lights will need to be on for about 14 hours a day, so an automatic timer is helpful. Even though your plants are in a south basement window, the addition of fluorescent lights will help compensate for the short days and lack of intense light in winter.
Your hibiscus may drop some leaves and look a bit unhappy, but it should survive reasonably well until the weather warms up enough in the spring to set the plants back outside. During the winter, water your hibiscus just enough to keep the soil moist, but don't leave the pots in standing water. Since there will be less growth during the depths of winter, fertilize less frequently until about mid-March, when the longer days will trigger more growth and more fertilizer will be needed..
Aphids and spider mites are fond of hibiscus, so check your plants regularly for these pests. Giving the hibiscus a lukewarm shower once a week will help keep mites off the foliage and wash off dust, which helps the leaves photosynthesize. When you take the hibiscus back outside (after all chance of frost is past, usually late May here) remember to put the hibiscus in a very shady spot and gradually move it to a sunnier location. Bright sun can easily burn the leaves of houseplants when they are moved outside.
Q I may start a garden next summer and would like the names and addresses of some seed catalogs so I can look at what vegetables and flowers are available.
APerusing seed and plant catalogs is a popular indoor winter sport for many people in this region. There are dozens of good catalogs, and once you order from one you will probably receive more catalogs. The Andersen Horticultural Library at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chanhassen receives hundreds of catalogs, so a visit there will give you a taste of what's available. Here's a list of some seed companies that carry a variety of vegetables and flowers:
1 Parkton Av.
Greenwood, SC 29647-0001
300 Park Av.