MANY-perhaps I would be justified in saying most- mistakes made by amateur gardeners might be avoided if they were to familiarize themselves with the various habits of their plants. One of the most common ones is that of attempting to keep them growing and blooming the year round. This is something that few plants can do, and the few that can do it would be vastly more satisfactory if they were given a resting-spell sometime during the year. The average plant is never able to do itself justice unless allowed to remain dormant two or three months out of the twelve. I am aware that the idea of a plant's resting is often ridiculed as one of the whims to which the enthusiastic gardener is subject, but it is the gardener who has just such whims who grows fine plants, and it is the one who ridicules him who is always wondering why her plants don't do better.
Nature allows the plants under her management to rest nearly half the year, and-Nature knows what she is about. A plant that has made vigorous growth and produced large crops of flowers during the season must be given an opportunity to recuperate and store up vitality for another growing and blooming period before it gets down to work again, if you expect it to give satisfaction. This rest it will take if you give it a chance. It will cease to grow. It will probably shed a good many of its old leaves. While it is dormant- resting by standing still-it should be encouraged to make its rest as complete as possible by giving it a treatment that will have no tendency to excite it to action. Use just enough water to keep it from wilting. This will not be much, as the feeding-roots will have temporarily suspended activity. Therefore the need of water will be slight. On no account should any fertilizer be used at this period. Not only does the plant not need it, but it is in a condition that makes it impossible for it to make use of it; therefore its application will injure rather than benefit.
Allow the plant to stand still as long as it wants to. It knows, better than we do, when it has rested long enough, and you may be quite sure that it will begin to grow again as soon as it feels equal to the demands that growth will make on it. Then-and not till then-should larger quantities of water be given. When active growth sets in it will be safe to apply a fertilizer, but it should be used with great discretion. Begin with small quantities, and increase the amount as development increases.
A plant that has been allowed to rest will have all the vigor of a young plant when it gets down to work again, while a plant that has been spurred to constant action by frequent and copious applications of water and fertilizer never appears at its best because for it there is no best. What might have been made its best is frittered away upon an effort to keep it always in prime condition, which is impossible.
Not all plants rest at the same time. Those which do most of their work during the winter generally stand still-or should be made to do so-in summer. If this is done, they will come to their winter's work strong and sturdy, and so renewed in vital force that they are equal to holding their own with young plants, and in many instances they are much preferable to the latter.
Summer-blooming plants can be allowed to take their rest in winter, generally in the cellar. They can be stored away in November, and left there until the following March with entire safety, if kept quite dry, and frost is not allowed to get at them. As a general thing it will not be necessary to water them more than once or twice during the season, unless the cellar happens to be a very dry one. Then give only enough to moisten the soil. Do not be frightened if some of them lose their foliage. All deciduous plants, out of doors, do that during their resting-spell, and are not harmed by it. Water, in liberal quantities, combined with warmth, will excite growth during the winter, and this is precisely what ought to be avoided. Therefore aim to keep the temperature about your plants in cold storage as low as can be done without incurring any danger from frost, and use but very little water.