Tidewater Gardening September 2008

September Setups for Fall


K. Marc Teffeau

   If you think about it, this summer season has been rather pleasant. We had some oppressive days in May and early June, but since then the summer has been seasonal, although becoming dry toward the end. As we start to enjoy the cooler days and the long shadows in the afternoon, we can become rejuvenated to move back into the garden for some work. Vacations are over, kids are back in school and we need to take advantage of the shortening daylight.
    An easy way to provide winter color indoors and get a jump on spring annual plantings is to do some easy propagation of select annuals. Root cuttings now from annual bedding plants such as begonias, coleus, geraniums, impatiens and fuchsia. These plants can be overwintered in a sunny window and provide plants for next year’s garden.
    My wife likes to take her geraniums, which have been growing on the patio in containers, back to school with her and into the classroom. So far she has had some excellent success in maintaining the plants over the winter and then re-potting them in spring as fresh container plants.
    Bring hanging baskets or pots of begonias indoors for the fall and winter. Return them to the outdoors in the spring.
    I have seen a lot of caladiums in the landscape this year. They are an excellent warm-season plant to provide color to both the flower bed and container plants on the deck. As the nights become cool, caladiums will begin to lose leaves. Dig them up and allow them to dry, then store them in a warm, dry place.
    Replace the caladiums in the garden with Christmas peppers or Jerusalem cherry plants that are easy to grow from seed in pots, or with mum transplants that have been grown to flower size.
    It is time to continue with fall crops in the vegetable garden. You can still seed beets, radishes, turnips and leaf lettuce. By the end of August your herbs might look a little ratty. Keep them producing new foliage by removing flowers and seedpods from basil, mint, parsley, sage and thyme. You can still try transplants of cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collards and lettuce.
    There have been some years with a mild fall and mild early winter that I have cut broccoli from the garden on Christmas day. It helps to have some clear plastic or Remay® handy to cover the plants if a hard frost is predicted. Cabbage worms can still be a problem, so have some BT insecticide available to spray, or be prepared to hand pick the worms.
    Fall crops such as butternut and acorn squash, pumpkins and gourds can be harvested soon. To cure them for winter storage you should leave them on the vine until the vine dies. Also, leave a small piece of the stem attached to the fruit when harvesting. A stem cut off too close to the fruit will cause it to rot during storage.
    Be sure to clean up the vegetable garden as you pull out spent plants. Removing the old, dead and dying plants will help to reduce the overwintering stages of many plant diseases and insect pests.
    After cleaning the garden, it is recommended that you add lime and organic matter, according to your soil test specifications. The final step is to protect the soil with a cover crop.
    Cover crops, when sown in the fall and plowed under in the spring, are valuable because they improve soil tilth and fertility, as well as prevent erosion during the winter. The most valuable cover crops are legumes such as vetch and clover. These plants have nitrogen fixing bacteria associated with their roots that take nitrogen from the air and convert it into a form usable by the plants.
    If you had set some of your houseplants out for the summer, now is the time to clean up those plants and bring them back indoors before night temperatures fall below 55 degrees. Remove dead leaves and stems, as well as any soil on the outside of the pot. Check for insects prior to bringing the plants back in and remove any diseased leaves.
    Don’t forget to wash windows this fall so that houseplants placed nearby can have maximum sunlight over the winter. Take a look at your herb garden and do some digging. Some herbs such as parsley and sage can be dug up, potted and used as houseplants for the winter.
    Stop weekly feedings of Christmas cactus in September for re-bloom during the Christmas holidays. Provide darkness for 15 hours a night in a cool place (50 to 60°) for October and November. Water plants about twice a month. Some people have had success with leaving Christmas cactus outdoors for a few cool nights (around 40-50°). The chill sets the buds, but they usually bloom before Christmas if you try this approach.
    We always remind gardeners at this time of year, as you select your flowering bulbs to plant this fall, to keep in mind that larger caliber bulbs give big, showy displays, but cost more. Smaller caliber bulbs usually are less expensive with a smaller show, but are great for brightening nooks and crannies in your yard.
    When designing with bulbs, bright-colored flowers from spring-blooming bulbs can bring interest to a neutral setting in early spring. Set some in the rock garden or alongside a brick wall this fall. Many of the dwarf species available are ideal for this use.
    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 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.
    If you are not sure which end of the bulb is the top, plant it on its side. The stem will always grow upright.
    Make sure that you are familiar with the planting depth requirements of the bulb species and any special planting techniques. For example, soak bulbs of winter aconite in water for a few hours before planting.
    To prevent damage to bulbs from moles tunneling in your flower beds you might want to try some rat wire from the local hardware store to make planting troughs. Dig out the flower bed, place the rat wire cages into the bed, refill with soil and plant the bulbs.
    Another technique to avoid damage from mice or other vegetarian rodents is to plant the bulbs in cans. Cut both ends from large fruit drink cans. Bury the cans to their rims. Fill about one-third full of soil, place one bulb in each and cover to the surface with soil.
    Lots of spring bulb fanciers swear by bone meal for fertilizing their planting beds, but the phosphorous in bone meal is almost completely unavailable to plants until the soil temperature reaches about 50°. Bone meal might aid your bulbs late in the growing season, but it does not aid flowering appreciably. More soluble phosphorous fertilizers may work better in the spring.
    Some gardeners are not aware that 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. Dig the new hole and gently loosen a small amount of soil from the outer soil depth. Be sure to water thoroughly after placing the plants to settle them in.
    As with any transplanting, it is best to move mums in early morning or late evening when the temperatures are cool. Monitor plants carefully for several days for wilting, and shade briefly during the hotter periods of the day, if necessary.
    Happy gardening!!!