This section is from the book "The Gardener V2", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
Plants generally will be safely located in their winter quarters, many of them, we fear, in a backward state, and by no means so well prepared to withstand the winter as in many previous years. The wood of numerous flowering subjects that require thorough ripening and a fair season of rest, especially those that have done duty late this season - such as Allamandas, Bougainvilleas, Clerodendrons, etc. - will need every attention in thoroughly maturing the wood. Owing to their premature state, a slower process must be adopted in bringing the plants safely to rest, otherwise fatal results must be anticipated. Considering the immature state of both flowering and foliage, extra caution will this year have to be exercised. Plants of the fine-foliage type that had completed their growth by the end of October last year and before this time, were enjoying that season of repose which is expedient for the wellbeing of many subjects. An early rest, if time is an object with the cultivator, is the only means necessary to insure an early start again at the commencement of the year.
The dull and sunless season, combined with a downpour of rain that is now fast drawing to a close, has been unfit to solidify the growth of plants, and bring them to that satisfactory stage of maturity to receive an early slumber. If artificial means have not been adopted to assist in their maturation, and they are allowed to keep in a semi-active state with a view of insuring an early and vigorous growth in the spring, the result ends in disappointment; and when wanted to grow, they will naturally stand still and enjoy the demands of nature. It is unwise for cultivators to adopt systems contrary to natural laws, instead of using every possible means in their power to bring plants to a stand-still artificially - not by force, but gradually, according to their constitution and requirements. The little time that may be considered lost by some growers in subjecting plants to a resting period in late seasons will be repaid by the vigorous and luxuriant growth made afterwards. Withholding water is not the only means necessary to bring plants to rest, and the ordeal of drying with many classes would prove more detrimental than beneficial. Yet a judicious use of the water-pot with evergreen plants is indispensable.
To keep their roots healthy and their foliage from being injured is what is required. In other cases it is necessary to withhold water, and to maintain a drier atmosphere and lower temperature. Plants in every department need careful watering, more especially as the days shorten and growth comes to a stand-still. In many instances we have noticed plants suffering for want of water when they most needed it; while, on the other hand, it is too frequently supplied with a vengeance, and neither thought nor care exercised in its application until bad results follow, and a large amount of damage is perceptible. We would, if success is the object, forcibly urge the importance of caution in watering, and carefully examining the requirements of plants. Plants do not need so much water after growth is completed; nor in the dark short days of winter is there any agent to evaporate it so freely from the pots as when the heat and dryness of the air require so much to feed it. It is during the winter season and early spring that watering should be most carefully studied.
Too frequently do we see that beautiful genus Erica, "which deserves to be more largely grown," suffering in winter through the application of water in a careless manner - too much at times, then again not sufficient - which no after-treatment can rectify. Their nature, and the solidity of the soil in which they are potted, should guide us in a large measure not.to give them too much. Azaleas of the indica type are plants that in many cases undergo severe treatment; and in a great measure their injury may be traced to the way in which they are supplied with water. The fine fibry nature of their roots soon becomes destroyed if negligence in watering is resorted to. These, while in an active state, are allowed to get dust-dry, and are kept on the dry side perhaps for weeks, in order, as we have heard it remarked, to bring them to rest. Under such treatment we need not wonder at so many examples being destitute of foliage, and looking more like a bundle of dead sticks through the winter than Azaleas. We need not wonder at them presenting such a melancholy appearance when subjected to such unnatural treatment in order to bring them to rest.
In time they are brought to a long rest, and find their resting-place on the rubbish-heap. We are aware Azaleas shed a portion of their leaves annually; but it can readily be seen that healthy vigorous plants only shed a small percentage compared to those subjected to a starving process. They should never suffer for want of water in any stage of development: a low airy temperature is the best possible means of inducing rest. Many of the causes attributed to the falling of Camellia-buds can, in the majority of cases, be traced to dryness at the root, after the buds have developed to a certain stage: they, too, should never be allowed to suffer.
As before alluded to, carefulness will be necessary in every department; and watering, in our idea, is one of the principal points connected with the successful culture of plants. Soil may be right, temperature suitable, and houses well-appointed; but if watering is not properly attended to, and is carelessly applied, what success can be anticipated! It is much easier to make a mistake at this time of the year than during summer. Many plants, especially Orchids, require much attention in this respect: many of them are benefited by water being withheld for a long time; while others require to be kept moist, or much damage is done to their foliage.
After the general potting in the spring, a close watch should be kept until the newly-potted plants get well hold of the new soil and commence growing luxuriantly. In concluding, we may add, that those in charge of the watering of plants cannot give the subject too much consideration, or exercise too much discretion through the winter and spring months. Wm. Bardney.