September has arrived and with it the expectation that in a few weeks — maybe just a couple — we will experience our first fall frosts. We have to start thinking about bringing indoors plants that we wish to overwinter before they get damaged by cold weather.
Most plants that we bring indoors for the winter are tropical plants that not only will be killed by frost but will not be very tolerant of cool fall nights. We must take action before the plants suffer any damage.
Standards of tropical plants have become very popular in the last few years for use in the outdoor garden as accents and patio plants. In the spring, garden centers and many large retail centers were selling standard forms of various kinds, but I was particularly interested in one that I had not seen grown as a standard before — the shrimp plant.
Shrimp plant gets its name from the colourful bracts that are produced on the stem tips; although there are varieties that are now available that sport yellow or dark red bracts, the original shrimp plant produced deep salmon coloured bracts — exactly the colour of shrimp. The specimens I saw this spring were the salmon ones.
Many people have grown shrimp plants as indoor potted plants; they are not uncommon. These plants grow about a foot tall and because their branches are thin they tend to cascade as they grow, so they are often displayed as hanging plants.
The shrimp plant is a bushy evergreen shrub that blooms continuously all year. Its leaves are produced in clusters and are variegated; the amount of creamy white variegation that appears on the leaves is directly related to the amount of sun the plant receives.
In poor light the foliage, which has a downy appearance, will be almost totally green; in direct sun the plant’s foliage will be almost white. The stems are brittle and are easily broken.
The flowers of the shrimp plant are its real attraction. The flowers are actually rather unspectacular, emerging from the colourful bracts; the actual flowers — usually white — are insignificant.
The shrimp plant is grown mainly for its coloured bracts which hang from the tips of the stems. The chain of bracts continues to grow, overlapping one another until the bract structure gets to be almost 25 cm long, at which time it will gradually go past and drop off the plant.
The bracts start out as almost white, gradually turning pale pink, and finally developing their mature colour — either the salmon pink of the original variety or a bright yellow or deep brick-red of newer hybrids.
Shrimp plants are fairly low maintenance plants. They like well drained, loamy soil and prefer lots of water and ample nutrients. In the growing season they respond well to being heavily fertilized.
Shrimp plants, although tropical plants, are quite drought tolerant, which makes them good candidates for standards grown in patio pots that might accidentally be allowed to dry out. One thing that they demand, however, is warm temperatures, so they will not be happy when put outdoors too early in the spring or left outdoors too late in the fall when night time temperatures will be cool.
Can a shrimp plant standard be wintered over to be used outdoors again next summer? The answer is, `Maybe`.
These are evergreen shrubs, so they will not go completely dormant over the winter and drop their leaves. If it is possible to winter a shrimp plant in front of a sunny window for the winter, it should survive.
Shrimp plants are subject to infestations of aphids and spider mites, so precautions are necessary to ensure these pests are not brought indoors when the plant comes inside for the winter. Vigilant examination on a regular basis to check for these pests during the winter is advised.
A gardener who cannot over winter a shrimp plant in front of a sunny window might try to keep it alive in a less hospitable place such as a basement, spare bedroom or heated garage. There would have to be some light as the plant will have leaves all winter.
If kept in such conditions, the soil should be kept just barely moist — just wet enough so the plant does not become dehydrated but dry enough to encourage the plant into a state of semi-dormancy and deter new growth.
Shrimp plants respond well to a severe clipping in the spring to make them bush out. Whether grown in favourable conditions during the winter or in a less than ideal environment during the winter, a significant spring pruning will produce a bushier, healthier, more attractive plant.
If you had a shrimp plant standard on your patio this summer, hopefully you will be able to protect your investment by overwintering the plant and be able to use it again next year in your outdoor garden. You will not know whether you can do it unless you try — and what have you got to lose?
Albert Parsons is a consultant for garden design and landscaping who lives in Minnedosa.