Annuals Gardening Light Needs of Plants

Pale Growth on an Overwintering Annual

Cuphea suffering from etiolation. Photo: Rachel Bernier

Question: I’m overwintering a cuphea Vermillionaire on my windowsill after a friend tried this last year with success. But I find its growth weak and pale, even if it is placed in my sunniest window. Should I prune it back regularly to strengthen its stems?

Rachel Bernier

Answer: The appearance of your Cuphea Vermillionaire® plant shows it simply lacks light, which explains why it is etiolated (showing weak, pale growth).

Honestly, that’s a pretty normal situation for an overwintering annual. Due to the short days and, in many climates, persistent gray weather, fall and winter sunlight is far less than the plant really needs, even in the brightest window, so it etiolates: stretches as if to try and grab a bit more sunlight. By cutting it back, you’ll at least keep it fairly compact until days lengthen.

And, of course, they will. You should notice a huge change in the plant’s growth in starting in March and early April. Its new stems will be shorter and its foliage denser and greener. In fact, as spring progresses, it will probably start blooming again to a certain degree, although not as heavily it will outdoors (indoor sunlight is never as intense as sunlight outdoors).

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The appearance of Cuphea Vermillionaire outdoors in full sun. Photo: www.provenwinners.com

When there is no more risk of frost, acclimatize your cuphea to outdoor conditions and give it full outdoor sun. In no time it will again be as gorgeous as it ever was!

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, laidbackgardener.blog will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

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