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Living Greens

Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Friday, 7 December 2001

Decorating the house with greenery makes the place feel more lively at the darkest time of the year. A week ago I brought indoors some of my favorite ground covers: miniature periwinkle, caraway thyme, pineapple mint, and 'Emerald Gaiety' wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei). The periwinkle has shiny little dark green leaves on trailing stems; the thyme is also trailing, with even tinier leaves. The other two sparkle with variegation: the mint has a cream-to-white edge on bright, mid-green leaves; the Euonymus a bright white edge on deep, dark green.

Conditions in the house however differ greatly from what garden plants are used to. House air is dry, and soil dries out fast. Even in the sunniest window, significant light fails to make it through glass. The tough plants I brought in can take drought and shade — but temperature shock is another matter; they had adapted to cold outdoors. I put them in an unheated room first, for several days, before moving them to heated space. I also decided not to bring in garden soil; earthworms are beneficial outside, but not indoors. I shook the soil off the roots gently and replanted them in commercial organic potting soil.

That was hard on the microscopic root hairs, which provide plants with water; I needed to pay even more attention than usual to preventing dehydration. When root hairs are damaged, you can't provide enough water through the soil: you'll just rot the roots. You can soak bare roots briefly in water before potting them up, to prevent additional injury from the new soil sucking moisture out of them. Usually the main remedy for dehydration when transplanting is to cut back the plant's top structure; this reduces transpiration. In this case however I want to save as much as possible of the foliage; that's what I'm bringing the plants in for. The answer is something I'm normally poor at doing: misting — but somehow the fact that this is a crisis, and it needs doing many times a day (plus the fact that it's not long-term) makes it easier.

After a week periwinkle leaves are still dying; it needs more misting. However the thyme I think has pulled through the leaf-dropping stage, and the wintercreeper has looked great from the start. The pineapple mint I had to cut back to the soil surface because it was ragged and too tall; but now it's putting up lots of tiny new shoots from the roots — getting me all excited.

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© Copyright 2001 Catherine Holmes Clark