Question: I kept a few container plants on my patio this summer. They won’t overwinter here, so I brought them in before the freezing weather. Now they are getting too big to keep in my kitchen.

Can I trim them back? Keep them in my garage? Is there a good way I can keep them and put them back outdoors next year?

Answer: The best method for keeping your plants will depend on what kind of plants they are. A garage might be too cold for tender tropical plants but perfect for half-hardy plants that only need to stay above freezing.

You didn’t mention what kind of plants you have, but I’m going to assume that your patio plants weren’t sun lovers since you had them in a shady spot, so they may do fine indoors near a bright window.

Some shade-loving plants — like plectranthus or coleus tolerate — can be cut back as long as they haven’t gotten too woody. Cut back the stems part-way, but make sure there are at least a few leaves on each stem. You should see new branching at the base of those leaves after several days.

Sun lovers — like geraniums and sweet potato vine — also tolerate some cutting back. Keep in mind that if you cut a plant back, it won’t be using quite as much water until there is plenty of new growth.

All of these plants also root very easily, so rooting and planting cuttings, then discarding your original plants will give you smaller plants to take care of during the winter. You can cut off several inches of stems, each containing a few leaves, remove the lowest leaves and pop the stems into a glass of water.

Many species root easily this way. Even rosemary stems will root this way, if you’re patient. Once you have several roots on your stems, you can plant them in smaller containers.

Some plants need a little extra attention before they’ll root. You may need to dip the ends of your cuttings in a rooting hormone and stick them in moist perlite to get them to root. Cover the container of stems and perlite loosely with a plastic bag and check for roots after a few weeks.

Question: I got trees installed in mid-spring of this year and my Vanderwolf’s pyramid pine tree started to look like this in July. I have another pine tree like this in the front yard and it’s getting a little yellow also but not as bad as this one. I wonder if it’s dead or if there is something I should do. 

Answer: After getting a little more information from you, it looks like watering is probably part of the problem. You watered your lawn deeply every other day this summer and also gave the trees additional water from a hose a few times a week.

Trees should be watered deeply but only once a week during the summer and less often in the spring and fall. When trees are in the lawn or watered with the lawn it's important to water the lawn deeply but as infrequently as it will tolerate — ideally not more than twice a week during the summer.

The yellowing needles on your trees are nearly all the same age- about three or possibly four years old. If the problem were a fungal disease or an insect, the damage would be more random, but on your tree the yellowing is primarily on needles of the same age.

In many pine species, it's normal for needles to yellow or dry and drop when they're 3 years old. Vanderwolf’s pines usually keep their needles a little longer. Needle drop usually happens late in the season, but in this case transplant stress, overwatering and extreme summer heat may have hastened the needle drop. New growth every year will disguise the bare areas on the branches.

Since the problem isn’t a fungus or insect there’s nothing you need to spray on the trees. You’ve already stopped watering your lawn for the year, but you should also stop supplementing the water with a hose.

Keep an eye on your trees, give them another deep soak on Thanksgiving weekend, mulch the soil over the root ball and watch for new growth next spring. Begin watering deeply, but as infrequently as the lawn will tolerate in late April or early May next year.

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