Right about now, potted plants brought indoors a month ago begin to look rather drab. No matter what anybody may tell you, the change in environment will affect a plant that's exchanged fresh breezes and warm, direct sunshine for a small windowful of light and no breezes. Wouldn't you feel the difference?
When my impatiens stopped blooming and began to look straggly, I cut off the foliage almost to the ground. You have to use discretion about such radical surgery; basically, I took off just about anything that had any amount of leaves -- yellowed or green -- leaving only short, healthy, succulent stalks that wind and overlap just above soil level.
I recently cropped most of my hanging baskets, which had stayed in bloom quite some time after they'd been brought in. New growth hasn't yet covered the bare stalks, but one pot of impatiens, which was beginning to lose its leaves when I first brought it in, is now covered with wonderful, green new growth thanks to my earlier cropping. The new growth has known only its current confined environment, so there's no reason for it to weep and sigh at a change in lifestyle.
Here's one general rule on houseplants: Whether they're newly brought-in plants or plants you've had in the house for some time -- once they're in a place they like, don't move them. If they're growing or simply staying green and not losing leaves, they like where they are. On the other hand, if a plant doesn't seem happy in its location, you should move it. Or you can try cutting it back and letting it start over again in the place you want it to stay in.
These can be difficult decisions, and some depend on the kind of plant in question. I wouldn't, for example, perform major surgery on a spider plant. Generally, however, trimming back dead or dying foliage is good for the plant and makes it look better. Q. I planted Brussels sprouts last spring. I read that a frost improves their taste, so I have not tried to harvest any yet. But I noticed back in the summer that the sprouts, which were too small for picking then, did not stay closed tightly, like the ones I see in the grocery store. They have opened up, and now are more like leaves than sprouts. Did I wait too long to pick them and how can I avoid this problem next year? A. Brussels sprouts have a very long growing period, as you discovered. They also need cool weather to stay closed. When planted in the spring, they must go in very early to accommodate these dual needs. What happened to yours is that they bloomed, in effect, even if no real blossoms appeared. To ensure a good crop next year, try planting them as a fall crop. They should be started in July and put out in the garden in August. Many nurseries and garden centers are now stocking such fall-crop seedlings as Brussels sprouts, so you can buy seedlings if you don't want to start them yourself. If you plant them near a south- or west-facing wall or fence that offers some protection from wind, you should be able to pick Brussels sprouts well into December. They actually improve with cold, frosty weather. Q. My county extension agent told me to cut back my asparagus to about two or three inches above ground level. I have done that, but when you recommend mulching around the asparagus, does this mean I should cover them over? A. I prefer to leave asparagus fronds in their natural state, rather than cutting them back. The less you fool with nature, the better. But don't despair. Asparagus is a hardy creature and it will survive without a problem after being cut back. Mulch around the plants, not over them, so you'll easily find your row of asparagus in the spring. To stagger the crop, pull back mulch sometime in the first two weeks of March on one or two rows, leaving the others covered, retarding the growth of shoots. This way, you'll get early asparagus from rows in which you'll pull off the mulch, and later asparagus from mulched rows..