by Betty Sanders
Lifetime Master Gardener
Summer vacation is ending for your houseplants. While it is still very warm outside, houseplants need to begin the transition back into your home. Any that have spent the summer outdoors should be brought onto a porch or deck where they receive less daylight, a step to help them acclimate to the lower light level in your home. Plants that have been in contact with the ground should be repotted to ensure worms, ants or pests are not tagging along. Check for any obvious signs of insects on the leaves, stems and top of the soil. A strong spritz from the garden hose followed by spray of insecticidal soap can help to keep aphids mites and others from causing a big problem indoors.
If your houseplants spent the summer out of doors, now is the time to start their autumn reentry
It's a great time to take cuttings from some tender favorites such as begonia, coleus and geranium. Cut a 4-inch tip of the plant, remove the largest leaves, dip in rooting hormone and place in wet sand or a perlite/peat moss mixture. Keep this growing medium wet until a gentle tug proves that roots are in place. Then, transplant to a small pot and you have a new houseplant. In a southern window you may even get blooms.
Finally, start thinking about the Amateur Horticulture competition at the 2011 Flower Show. Last year's schedule is still available (click here). Even March looks bright with a shiny ribbon on your plant!
Planting for fall/winter It's been a long hot summer and the last thing some of us are thinking is planting at this time of year. But it might be a good idea to reconsider. We can see where our garden needs a boost. It is easy to plan a spring and summer garden; harder to think ahead to where we need color or structure for the fall and winter months. Nurseries are full of plants that can offer exactly that, and they're likely on sale.
I am not a fan of chrysanthemums for fall. The colors are too brassy, the plants too short lived. I leave annuals in place until they are killed by frosts (usually the same time that the mums would be killed) and supplement them with perennials that will provide color throughout the winter. Heuchera are wonderful plants that show off their colorful leaves year round (when not buried under snow). Those not watered may have suffered this summer, but cutting back dead leaves will lead to fresh replacements. In shady areas, plant epimediums, which keep their greenery throughout the winter and add flowers to the shade in the spring.
And don't forget trees and shrubs. It is not too late to plant as long as you water consistently until the ground freezes in December. Trees add not just height but also interesting bark and structure after the leaves are gone. Evergreens add priceless greens, blues and yellows to the winter landscape. Shrubs provide offer color, bark, berries and shelter for the birds.
Don't rake! Take a look at the forest floor: it is covered with leaves. They provide the only nutrients that the native trees get. They are the mulch that protects the roots and new seedlings. Traditionally, we rake to remove leaves that would otherwise smother our lawn over the winter. But with a mulching mower you eliminate one time consuming chore. Always mow your lawn using a mulching blade on your mower. This returns finely cut grass clippings to the lawn. In the autumn, the same blade will chop leaves into small pieces. These pieces will not mat. Instead, they'll break down over the winter, returning the nutrients to the soil in the process. In October, if the leaves are particularly thick, you may have to go over an area twice, but this is still substantially less work than raking.
In flower beds and under trees and shrubs, leaves can remain for the winter to help protect the roots and crowns of your plants. Cleaning them out is a spring chore.
Mushrooms in the lawn? After a horribly dry summer, we had 4 days of rain in late August and await a hurricane this week. The result may be the sudden appearance of mushrooms of all sorts in your lawn. If the sight of mushrooms sends you looking for a cure… stop. Those mushrooms are a sign of organic material decomposing under your lawn, which is a good thing. While I strongly advise against eating them unless you are an experienced mycologist, enjoy their unusual shapes and colors. And, if they bother you, just kick them over.