I recently returned from a weeklong trip to Southeast Ohio and Western North Carolina. I spoke at a landowner conference held at United Plant Saver’s Goldenseal Sanctuary, near Athens, Ohio. It was horribly hot and humid there, but the participants didn’t seem to care at all. If you haven’t visited this part of this country, I encourage you to do so. The vegetation will seem very familiar to you but much more vigorous than ours. Roadside plants such as New York Ironweed, Joe Pye Weed, Wingstem, and the great Coreopsis towered above my head, reaching several feet taller than the roadside plants we have here. This part of the Appalachians has all the wild plants we have here and many more! The diversity of a region that has never been frozen in itself is worth the trip.
Most of our area escaped the very heavy rains last week, but parts of Greene and Ulster counties received up to seven inches of rain, again causing local flooding. This season has been quite different from last year in terms of rainfall. In general, our forests and fields are much healthier when it rains.
Within a few weeks, parts of our region will have experienced their first frosts. The days are much 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 fabric blanket (not plastic) when frost is threatened. I had a great tomato crop which is starting to run out now. I think I got the fertilizer rate close enough to perfect this season, to allow most of the fruit to ripen in August. Tomato plants that are given too much nitrogen fertilizer often fail to mature much of the crop before frost. These supercharged plants will grow tall and lush, but fruit ripening will be delayed. If you now have an open space in your garden, a cover crop can be sown. Oats will provide quick cover that will die off in frost, winter rye is excellent for choking weeds, but will need to be plowed next spring.
If you still have houseplants outside, you need to bring them back, but before they come back, you need to spray them at least a few times with a houseplant insecticide, such as insecticidal soap or horticultural oil. You can also use a systemic soil poison which is put in the pot and then watered. Systemic poisons are absorbed by the roots, travel upward through the plant, and kill the pests from the inside out. The plants may seem perfectly bug free to your eyes at the moment, but I can pretty much guarantee that if you bring them indoors without treatment, they will soon show signs of spider mites and maybe aphids.
An alternative to saving them is to take cuttings from tender plants such as coleus or geraniums, which can be grown as houseplants all winter in a sunny window. The cut should be 3 or 4 inches and include two or three knots. (The nodes are where the leaves break off from the stems) Cut off any flowers and dip the cuttings in a rooting hormone powder for best results. Glue the cuttings, three or four at a time, into a 6 or 8-inch plastic pot filled with moist potting soil. Do not use the black, heavy potting soil that is sold in plastic bags. Instead, use a light, soilless mixture of peat, vermiculite, and perlite.
After gluing the cuttings, place the entire pot in a clear plastic bag sealed on top and place it in a shaded indoor location. The cuttings should root in about two weeks and the plastic bag can be removed. Once rooted, the pots should be placed in the sunniest windows you have available.
It is also a good time to propagate perennial flowers. A general rule of thumb is to divide fall-flowering perennials in the spring and spring-flowering perennials in the fall. At this time, you can dig up and divide the peonies, but be sure to replant the divided clumps with the pink buds to within an inch below soil level. Peonies planted too deep will not flower properly. You can also dig up and divide bleeding hearts, columbines, dutch irises, and any other spring-flowering perennial plants. Take advantage of the current display of our wild fall blooming asters and consider transplanting some to your perennial garden.
Planting spring flowering bulbs begins in earnest next month, but now is a good time to buy bulbs when the selection is the best. I look forward to the next fall color display which has only just begun.