No Mere Hothouse Flower

Show off! Mandevilla in late DecemberMy mandevilla has an identity crisis. You think I’m joking?

The shopkeeper who first steered me toward this gorgeous vine recommended it on the grounds that it could withstand blistering heat and relentless sun—exactly the conditions on the west-facing side of our house all summer. But there was not a chance, he said, that this tropical plant would tolerate frigid winter temperatures. At most, according to the Plant Care website, a mandevilla “should be able to handle high 40’s for brief periods.” So how has mine survived a hurricane and three snow storms? How has it endured four days of sub-freezing temperatures that have shriveled the pansies and Swiss chard, both touted as cool weather plants? Didn’t it get the memo?

Mandevilla in DecemberTo be fair, I don’t expect it to last much longer. As the mercury has fallen, the glossy green leaves have taken on more autumnal hues and are now tinged with red and purple. In the last few days, as temperatures have lingered in the 20’s, the dozen or so blossoms that flourished right through Christmas have withered. Yet the vine still winds gracefully and tenaciously around its lattice, curls up the railing adjacent to its pot, and twists its way 10 feet up the strings we dangled from the second floor of the house to give it a structure to climb. You’ve gotta love it.

What never occurred to me is that it might be possible to overwinter a mandevilla. But with a little research, I learned belatedly (again!) that it is possible–though I should have acted sooner. I should have chopped off these magnificent vines before the first frost, cut the stalks down to no more than 12 inches high, and brought the plant indoors to “rest” in a cool, dark room until spring (a feat that can only be accomplished easily if the plant is in a container rather than the ground).

Is it too late to rescue my mandevilla? Perhaps. But I’m going to try. Any plant that tenacious deserves a second chance.

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