Flowering vine strictly a potted plant

I just received a mandevilla from a friend for my birthday and I am wondering if I plant it outside, will it be able to live through the winter here? I don’t think I want to try it as a house plant since it is supposed to climb. I know nothing about this plant. What can you tell me?

— Paulette

I’m afraid mandevilla are nowhere near hardy enough to grow outside here. They won’t stand temperatures much below 30 degrees and only for a very short period of time. They’re grown strictly as a potted plant that needs to spend the winter indoors. Most people put them outside on the patio during the spring and summer where they can get partial shade, but they need to go inside as things start cooling down in the fall.

As you know, mandevilla are climbing vines that can actually grow to 20 feet or even 30 feet. However, in a pot, they tend to stay much smaller depending on the size of the pot. Many people do a bit of pruning on them to help keep them smaller and denser. You can actually maintain them small like that for a period of time, but it usually shortens the life of the plant.

There are two things to be aware of with this plant. First, when you bring the plant in for the winter, put it in a spot that gets plenty of bright light. The plant will do better and you can keep the flowers going if it’s bright enough.

Second, when you prune them, they’ll bleed a white, milky, latex-like sap. It can sometimes be abundant enough to drip on the floor or table where it’s sitting so spread some newspaper around the plant before you start cutting. The “bleeding” will stop after an hour or two.

Personally, I think they’re worth the effort. They provide spectacular flowers in a wide range of colors that can be hard to find in most house plants.

 

I have a ficus tree, which I have had about four years. Even though we have vaulted ceilings, it is getting a bit out of hand. Can it be pruned, and, if so, when is a good time?

— Janice

 

Pruning a ficus is really pretty easy. What you want to do is to prune the branches that are getting out of hand completely back to a side branch. Don’t just cut the branch back any old place, leaving a stub; cut it off so that the side branch is now at the end. The side branch that you cut back to should be at least one-third the diameter of the branch you’re cutting off. I hope this is making sense to you; describing pruning techniques in just words is tough.

Another thing to keep in mind is to not cut off more than a third of the foliage of the plant at any one time. If you need to take more than that off, do what you can now, allow the plant to recover (two or three months) and then do the rest. Doing the pruning gradually in this way can avoid stress on the plant.

The last tidbit of advice I can give you is to put a drop cloth under the plant before you start pruning. Ficus, just like the mandevilla mentioned above, have a milky-white latex sap and they can really bleed when you cut them. This isn’t a problem for the plant, but sometimes that sap will drip off and gum up the floor underneath. The bleeding will stop after a day or two.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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