Time to bring the houseplants indoors

I recently returned from a week-long road trip to southeast Ohio and western NC. I spoke at a landowner’s conference that was held at the United Plant Saver’s Goldenseal Sanctuary, near Athens, Ohio. It was beastly hot and humid there, but the participants did not seem to mind at all. If you have not visited that part of this country, I encourage you to do so. The vegetation will look very familiar but much more vigorous then ours. Roadside plants such as New York Ironweed, Joe Pye weed, Wingstem, and tall Coreopsis towered above my head, growing several feet taller than the roadside plants we have here. That part of Appalachia has all the wild plants we have here plus many more! The diversity of an area that was never glaciated is worth the trip in itself.

Most of our region escaped the really heavy rain last week, but parts of Greene and Ulster counties received up to seven inches of rain, causing local flooding once again. This season has been quite different than last year in terms of precipitation. In general, our forests and fields are far healthier when it rains.

Within a few short weeks, parts of our region will have had their first frost. The days are noticeably shorter now and the evenings much cooler. If you have tender crops such as tomatoes, beans and peppers at risk, you may want to cover them with a cloth (not plastic) blanket when frost is threatened. I had a great tomato crop that is starting to peter out now. I think I got the fertilizer rate pretty close to perfect this season, to allow most of the fruit to ripen in August. Tomato plants that get too much nitrogen fertilizer often fail to ripen much of the crop before frost. These overfed plants will grow tall and lush, but fruit ripening will be delayed. If you have open space in your garden now, a cover crop can be seeded. Oats will provide a quick cover that will die when frost occurs, winter rye is excellent for smothering weeds, but will have to be tilled in next spring.

If you still have houseplants outside, they need to be brought in, but before they come back in, you should spray them at least a few times with a houseplant insecticide, such as Insecticidal soap or horticultural oil. You may also use a systemic soil poison that is put in the pot and then watered in. Systemic poisons are absorbed by the roots, move upward through the plant and kill the pests from the inside out. The plants may appear to be perfectly bug free to your eye right now, but I can pretty much guarantee that if you bring them indoors without treatment, they will soon show evidence of spider mites and perhaps aphids.

One alternative for saving them is to make cuttings on tender plants such as coleus or geraniums, which can be grown as houseplants all winter long in a sunny window. The cutting should be 3 or 4 inches and include two or three nodes. (Nodes are the places where leaves come off the stems) Cut off any flowers and dip the cuttings into a rooting hormone powder for best results. Stick the cuttings, three or four at a time, into a 6 or 8 inch plastic pot that is filled with moist potting soil. Don’t use the black colored, heavy, potting soil that is sold in plastic bags. Instead, use a lightweight, soil less mixture comprised of peat moss, vermiculite and perlite.

After sticking the cuttings, put the whole pot in a clear plastic bag that is sealed on top and place it in a shaded indoor location. The cuttings should root in about two weeks and the plastic bag may be removed. After they are rooted, the pots should be placed in the sunniest windows you have available.

This is also a good time to propagate some perennial flowers. A general rule of thumb is to divide fall blooming perennials in the spring and spring flowering perennials in the fall. Right now you can dig up and divide peonies, but make sure you replant the divided clumps with the pink buds no more than one inch below the soil level. Peonies planted too deeply will not flower properly. You may also dig up and divide bleeding hearts, columbine, Dutch iris and any other spring blooming perennial. Enjoy the current display of our wild, fall blooming, asters and consider transplanting some to your perennial garden.

Spring flowering bulb planting begins in earnest next month, but now is a good time to buy the bulbs when the selection is best. I am looking forward to the upcoming display of fall colors that is just now beginning.

Reach Bob Beyfuss at rlb14@cornell.edu.

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