THE wet, wet weather this winter is enough to keep even the most enthusiastic gardener out of the garden. Waterlogged soil is best not walked on if it is for growing plants.
The compaction of saturated soil is very damaging as even when it dries out the effects of compression last and cause clods of soil in summer that are difficult for plant roots to penetrate. This doesn’t mean no gardening. Indoor gardening is always a possibility.
Tropical species are a very popular form of indoor plant for indoor gardening. They give a different range of plants that cannot be grown in the outdoor Mediterranean garden. If you grow tropical plants in pots they can grace the terrace or balcony in summer and be retired to the indoors in winter or they can be a permanent indoor feature in a bright, warm area of the home.
A favourite that is hardy and fast growing in the right conditions is the impressive glossy leaved trumpet flowered Mandevilla, also called the Sun or Summer Parasol. It originates from tropical Central America where it is a climbing plant. It was named after British explorer and diplomat Henry Mandevilla who first botanically identified it.
A Mandevilla needs plenty of sunlight or it will not flower profusely. It is very cold tender so must be kept in a warm place above 10°C throughout winter. They will thrive in a large container with a good soil mixture and will grow over a metre a year in good conditions and up to seven metres in length on maturity.
It will need a trellis or structure to grow up or along to give it support unless you keep it very well pruned in autumn when flowers are less frequent. Pruning is also recommended to encourage multiple stems to spread growth by creating more branching to have a more intensive flower display. Prolific flowering can be further promoted by pinching off the spent flowers and as flowers form mostly on the current year’s growth, the pruning is done in a way to encourage this new growth.
If you are moving the container from outdoors for winter hibernation and protection from cold, you can submerge the container in water for at least a few minutes to flush out any ants or other bugs that you don’t want inside. Wash the upper part of the plant also and allow the plant to dry and drain well after soaking before moving inside.
In winter when temperatures drop it is best to reduce watering so the soil mix is just moist as excess water amplifies the cold effect around the roots. Low light intensity in winter usually stops it flowering.
This can be true in summer if indoors without sufficient light. The leaves may drop in winter if exposed to cold. If this happens reduce water to just moist until new leaves start to form. If necessary, repot in spring when growth starts due to the roots filling the container. This will help it last for many years more.