Ron Kujawski: Fall - a time to plant and a time to reap

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It's time to plant. Uh, no, you haven't fallen asleep for seven months and have just awakened to find that it is spring. Shorter days, cooler temperatures, and hopefully some rain, will make this an ideal time to plant most herbaceous perennials, shrubs and trees. While the above-ground portions of these plants are unlikely to grow much, if at all, the roots will continue to grow and take up nutrients until soil temperatures drop below 40 degrees F.

Before shopping for plants, give thought to the environmental features where the plants are to be located. This includes soil pH, soil texture, drainage, shade, exposure to wind, and size of available space. With respect the latter feature, learn the mature dimensions, especially of trees and shrubs, before purchasing. Just keep this adage in mind: right plant in the right place.

COMPANY FOR THE WINTER

When not planting, now is a good time to un-plant, that is, dig up some plants. The plants to which I refer include geraniums, coleus, impatiens and begonias. While we treat these most often as annuals for the summer flower garden, they are actually perennials, albeit tender perennials, that is, they will not tolerate exposure to frost.

Why bother to dig them up? Well, besides being treated as bedding plants, they are also common houseplants. Therefore, why not dig up a few and bring them indoors where you can enjoy their company through the fall, winter and early spring. It's best to do this now while environmental conditions indoors and out, i.e. temperature, daylight and humidity, are similar. That will make the transition to the indoors less stressful for the plants ... as long as you don't expose them to current news reports.

Select the healthiest looking plants to dig up. When digging, get a good amount of the root system, but gently remove as much garden soil as possible from around the roots before potting up in potting soil. Don't use garden soil for potting as it tends to become compacted when in pots. Once potted and watered, examine each plant carefully for evidence of pests and diseases, and treat as needed with an appropriate pesticide.

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Next, the plants may be moved directly indoors provided they are exposed, at least for a week or two, to lighting similar to that where they grew outdoors. Alternatively, place the plants in a partially shaded spot outdoors for that same time span to allow for acclimation to subsequent move indoors. Though these plants look healthy structurally when in the company of neighboring plants in a flower bed, they can look scraggly as individual specimens in a pot. If so, it wouldn't hurt the plants to be pruned back to about half their size.

Besides providing attractive houseplants to keep you company during the winter, these plants may also be a source of cuttings for new plants for next year's outdoor flower beds.

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THERE ARE CHORES WAITING ...

Save some energy from digging and planting for these tasks:

- Move houseplants that vacationed outdoors this summer back to their place indoors. However, do it gradually as to acclimate them to the indoor environment. By gradually, I don't mean slowly carrying the plants to the house. As with the tender perennials discussed above, place the potted plants in partial shade during the day for about a week. Examine the plants for pest and disease, prune off withered or browned foliage, and repot plants that are root-bound. It'd also be worth soaking each pot in a tub of lukewarm water for 15 minutes to force insects, such as fungus gnats, out of the soil. Once indoors, place the plants near windows where they'll receive an amount of light equivalent to that of their outdoor location.

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- At some point this month, confine your Christmas cactus to a closet in a cool room of 60 degrees F or less for a daily dark period of 12 to 14 hours. Be sure not to interrupt the dark period. Even brief exposure to the flick of a light switch during the dark period can disrupt the induction cycle and prevent flower bud formation. During the part of the day when not in the closet, Christmas cactus requires bright light, but not direct sunlight. Once flower buds become apparent, the plant can come out of the closet, but should be kept in a cool, brightly lit room until in full bloom.

- Seed new or renovated patches of lawns by mid-month. This will allow time for grass seedlings to get well established before the onset of hard freezes.

- Harvest apples that are now ripe. To determine ripeness of an apple, hold it in the palm of your hand and lift up. If the apple snaps right off, it is ripe.

- Pick off the "bad" as well as the "good" when harvesting vegetables. Discard the "bad" to discourage disease problems. I think you know what to do with the "good."

- Cut some stems of catnip and hang them in a well-ventilated place for drying. Remove the dried leaves and use in catnip pillows and other kitty toys. Better yet, get rid of the cat, dig up the catnip and replace it with a more useful herb. (Just kidding. I hope our cat is not reading this.)


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