Tidewater Gardening - September 2009

Moving Plants Back Inddors


K. Marc Teffeau

   Late September is the time to bring houseplants back indoors if you had them outside for the summer. Before returning them to their location in the house, conduct a general clean-up of both the plant and the containers. Remove dead leaves and inspect for any insects or mites who may have set up housekeeping on your plant. For mites, be sure to check the undersides of the leaves and where a leaf may join a stem or branch. If needed, treat the plants with a houseplant insect spray, according to label directions.
    Make sure you clean the pots and check for any “hitchhikers” like sow bugs, centipedes or ants who might want to come in with the plant.
    Now is also a good time to re-pot any houseplants that have outgrown their containers. Purchase a quality houseplant potting soil from your local independent garden center. You can fertilize houseplants through November but then stop until early next spring.
    Now would be a good time to root cuttings from annual bedding plants such a begonias, coleus, geraniums and impatiens. These plants can be overwintered in a sunny window and provide plants for next year’s garden. Pot chives, parsley and other herbs to extend their growing season in the house.
    As a reminder from my August column, it is still not too late to vegetate in the vegetable garden. You can still seed beets, radishes, turnips and leaf lettuce. In early September you can put in transplants of cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collards and lettuce. For cabbage worms that might show up on the broccoli and cabbage, spray them with Thuricide or Dipel.
    Mums can be transplanted while in bloom, which makes them useful for instant landscapes in early autumn. Water thoroughly the day before (or at least several hours before) digging plants, retaining as much of the root system as possible.
    The key to successful planting is proper site preparation. Choose a sunny, well-drained spot. Dig and loosen the soil to a depth of eight to ten inches in a hole twice the diameter of the plant’s pot. Mix organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure into the soil. Water the plants thoroughly after placing them to settle them in.
    As with any transplanting of any actively growing plant, it is best to move the mums in early morning or late evening when temperatures are cool. Monitor plants carefully for several days for wilting and shade briefly during the hotter periods of the day. In addition to mums, you can add additional fall color to the landscape by planting winter pansies, flowering kale and flowering cabbage.
    This month is a great time to plant and divide perennials and shrubs for next year’s garden. By planting in the fall, your plants do not endure the stressful summer heat during establishment and have time to form sufficient root systems before the onset of winter dormancy.
    When planning next year’s fall garden, consider the versatile and carefree day lily as a source of fall color to complement chrysanthemums and fall asters. There are several varieties of day lily that will bloom in August and September. Modern hybrids are available in many colors and grow from 2 to 6 feet tall. American-grown hybrid varieties have less trouble with virus diseases than the old species types.
    Perennials like phlox can be divided about every third or fourth year. Divide big clumps of perennial phlox into thirds. Early fall or early spring are the best times to plant or transplant them. The same goes for iris.
    If it is September, it must be yellow jacket time. These pesky wasps have left their jobs of feeding young and building the nest and are actively foraging for sweets. They’re at picnics, in the garbage and anywhere food may be. They especially like to hang around aluminum can recycling bins where they feed on left-over cola and sweet syrup residue left in the soft drink cans.
    The yellow jacket nests are at their peak populations now and will usually be found in the ground. How many of us have had the unfortunate experience of running over a nest in the ground while mowing the grass. An Olympic runner has nothing on me in the running area when a mess of yellow jackets decide to work on my ankles!
    The nest entrance will be busy with many foragers coming and going, but individuals may fly hundreds of yards in their search for the sweet stuff. Yellow jacket colonies do not over winter like honeybees do. With the arrival of cold weather, any remaining males and the old queen die. The new queens will overwinter and start new nests in the spring. The old nest will not be reused next spring.
    The best control of yellow jackets is to eliminate the nests when found. An aerosol wasp and hornet insecticide applied to the nest in the evening, when the nest is quiet, is the best control. Repeat applications may be necessary if there is still activity.
    If the nest is in a building, do not seal the entrance. They could chew another entrance to the inside. Another effective control is to eliminate access to food sources. Cover or remove garbage, pet food and leftovers from outside meals. Don’t leave empty  soda cans lying around.
    There is no good area control for the scavenging yellow jackets. Traps eliminate a few individuals, but only a small percent of what’s in the nest. If the nests are not in high traffic areas they can be left alone and allowed to be killed off with the winter cold.
    In the September landscape, as the nights become cool, caladiums will begin to lose leaves. Dig them up, allow them to dry and store them in a warm, dry place. This space can be replanted with Christmas peppers or Jerusalem cherry plants that are easy to grow from seed in pots. You could also replace them with mum transplants that have been grown to flower size.
    Plant roots of both garden and tree peonies in September or early October so they will have time to become established in the soil before winter. Dig a hole 18 inches across and 18 inches deep for each tuber. Space the holes so that the plants will be at least 3 feet apart. Make sure the roots are buried only 1½ to 3 inches below ground level. Deeper planting keeps the plants from blooming.
    As you plant your spring bulbs, remember that a mass planting of one flower type or color will produce a better effect than a mixture of many colors. Flowers stand out more vividly if displayed against a contrasting background. For example, white hyacinths among English ivy, yellow daffodils against a “Burford’ holly hedge or red tulips towering over a carpet of yellow pansies.
    Sowing seeds now of hardy annuals, such as sweet alyssum, pinks and sweet peas will give the seedlings time to get established and develop good root systems before the coldest part of winter. This gives them a head start on growth and flowering next spring.
    As you do the fall clean up in the annual flower bed, save the seeds from favorite self-pollinating, non-hybrid flowers such as marigolds, by allowing the flower heads to mature. Lay seeds on newspaper and turn them often to dry. Store the dry seeds in glass jars or envelopes in a cool, dry, dark place.
    Happy Gardening!!!