By Debbie Rodgers
All good things eventually come to an end and so summer is waning, even as autumn gives most of us a fresh start. I'll bet your summer container plantings aren't really benefiting, though, from the "back to school-oh I love a clean notebook" boost and aren't dying as gracefully as summer itself is. You're going to have to help them through this!
I understand if you just can't bear the thought of waving good-bye to your wave petunias just yet. That's okay - you can bring some of your tropical annuals indoors for the winter, to ease the pain of parting with them.
If you have the space, a sunny window and enough moisture, you can save palms, ferns and other tropicals. Likely though, you'll have more success with taking cuttings and helping your plants clone themselves. (It's kind of like Day of the Triffids without the evil.)
Pick a healthy plant with no nasty bugs or blights. With a sharp knife, cut off non-flowering stems 3-4 inches (8-11 cm) long, and strip the leaves off the lower two-thirds of the stem. Dip the cut edges in rooting hormone, available at your local nursery, and stick them in dampened sand or peat moss, or a glass of tap water. Place the pot, tray or glass in a sunny spot and wait 3-4 weeks. If the cuttings are in sand or peat, don't forget to water to keep them damp throughout that time.
When the roots are at least 1 inch (2.5 cm) long, you can plant them in potting soil in attractive containers and winter them on a sunny windowsill or table. This method works well with annuals such as geraniums (pelargonium), coleus, and some ivies. You can also try propagating impatiens this way.
Now that you've rescued what you can, get ruthless and empty all of your other outdoor containers. If you have a compost heap, chop up the remains and toss them there. Soil too! This is particularly important if you've been using terracotta or ceramic containers, as the moisture in the soil will expand when it freezes and you'll end up with cracked pots. (If there are any crackpots around my house, I want them to be of the human variety!)
Next, wash out the empty containers to remove any disease and fungal spores. If your terracotta pots have a white build-up from water, potting soil and fertilizer chemicals, soak them for 24 hours in white vinegar and water with some baking soda added. Then scrub them with a stiff brush in warm soapy water. Rinse thoroughly.
Air or sun dry the containers and then stack them with layers of newspaper between each. If you have a spot to store them where they won't freeze over the winter months, all the better. If not, as long as you've made certain the pots are dry and well layered with paper, they should be fine until the spring.
Now you're ready to put on a show of fall color. I can tell you EVERYTHING you need to know. Check under "Fall Planting Tips" on the fre*e articles page of my webs-site.
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