January 2003 - Indiana Yard and Garden - Purdue Consumer Horticulture

January 2003

Q. We decided to build a sunroom this winter. Unfortunately, this means moving some hosta. Can I transplant them at this time of year? Some others are planted where they will be run over by heavy machinery. Since they’re dormant, will they survive? — Jeff All, West Lafayette, Ind.

A. Transplanting in the winter can be hard, cold work. If the ground is not frozen, dig up each hosta clump, and sink it in the ground in a safe location. It doesn’t have to be the permanent home of the plants but a temporary resting place until spring. Pack dirt around the roots and water them in, not to provide moisture to the dormant plant, but to help the dirt settle, thus removing air pockets that can allow damaging cold temperatures to the roots. Add a layer of mulch over the top, and leave them until spring. When the plants first begin to break bud, lift and plant them in their new homes.

Spring is an ideal time to divide them, if you would like more hosta. Take a knife or shovel and cut each clump into smaller sections, making sure each section has both roots and shoots. Plant them in their new location, spacing them to allow for their eventual growth.

Perennials, including hosta, seem like they wouldn’t be damaged by heavy weight since their tops have completely died down for winter. However, they have delicate crowns where the growing points emerge in the spring. These probably cannot survive heavy equipment running over them, so these plants should also be transplanted.

Q. A friend just gave me seven pots of garden mums! If I plant them in the ground this spring, will they live and bloom? What should I do with them? I have them stored in our barn now. Thanks! — via e-mail, Winchester, Ind.

A. Just like the hosta in the previous question, it’s the root temperature that can kill otherwise hardy perennials held above ground. I don’t know the lowest winter temperature experienced in your barn, but I would recommend planting the mums outdoors, if the ground is not frozen. The status of the ground changes day by day, as we go into the coldest parts of winter. Eventually, this will be very difficult.

The other option, which is much easier, is to mulch the mums and keep them in the barn. Add a thick layer of leaves or bark mulch. In the spring, plant them in the garden. Watch out for mice. They like to eat the roots when they’re easily accessible like this! Bait or exclude them.

Q. Traveling in North Carolina, including a visit to the Biltmore Estate, we collected some fruits of a hardy orange (Citrus trifoliata). We would like information on them, including how to germinate the seeds and any special growing conditions that they require. We would like to landscape with a few hardy orange specimens as focal plants for their exotic look and for their strong scent of orange blossoms, which remarkably is still present on the fruits long after they have fallen from the tree. — Karen Dearlove, Bristow, Ind.

A. These “hardy oranges” have been reclassified and are now called Poncirus trifoliata. They’re hardy to zero F, so they will require a very sheltered location to survive here. Eventually, they will produce ‘near-citrus’ fruits with a bitter, lemony flavor that is often made into jelly, marmalade and lemonade. Interestingly, North Carolina State University lists it on their poisonous plant list! The university’s Web site says, “Causes only low toxicity if eaten. Skin irritation minor, or lasting only for a few minutes.” The fruits provide a great deal of seasonal interest if left on the plant, which sounds like your best bet! They make an incredible hedgerow with strong thorns. In Venezuela, they are marketed along with alarms and motion detectors for property protection. The fruits and thicket provide superior wildlife habitat.

Seed germination is best when the seeds are planted immediately after removing them from the fruit. If necessary, however, you can remove them, wash them with clean water and put them to dry in a cool, shady place. They can be stored in bags at 40 F for several weeks.

Indoors or in a greenhouse, plant them in potting mix, about 1 inch below the soil surface. Put them in a sunny place, and water regularly. Eventually, you’ll need to transplant the seedlings to a regularly moist or wet location in full sun. Outdoors, plant seeds 1 inch below the soil surface and irrigate to supplement rainfall.

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