2007-09-06 / News

The Island Garden

By Roger Marshall

When September comes it's time to start thinking about what you are going to do with the plants you bought during summer. Most gardeners tend to be very practical sorts and many of these plants will get tossed out or into the compost pile, but many are worth saving and will do well indoors.

Pelargoniums, often erroneously listed as geraniums, make a good indoor plant. Over the winter they will get leggy, especially if they are located in areas of low light, but around March next year, simply cut off the leggy stalks and propagate the top two or three leaves to get new plants. Spread them around your garden in spring for instant additional color. If you deadhead them regularly, they'll last until this time next year. Or if you wish, simply take the top cuttings now and grow miniature plants over the winter ready for next season. You can do the same with plants such as fuchsias, mandevilla, hibiscus, angel trumpets, figs, and lots of others.

Some people simply put the plants in their garage and leave them to grow very slowly over the winter. They'll need a little watering and you may have to leave your car outside, but for a gardener that's a reasonable trade-off. I am lucky; I put most of my plants into a greenhouse for the winter and bring them out next spring. They get watered and lightly fed until late November and then I water about once a week until mid-march when I start using some fertilizer again. Some of the mandevillas are now six or seven years old. When they come out next year, they'll grow up the string trellis on the north side of the greenhouse wall doing double duty of hiding the wall and giving their wonderful blooms a chance to be seen.

Now is also the time to check all the plants you want to bring indoors for the winter. Incidentally, there have been several studies lately on the benefits of having indoor plants, and I urge you to bring all you can inside and enjoy them for as long as possible. They will drop a few leaves, but that's natural. For the plants you intend moving inside, knock them out of their pots now and check to see how root bound they are. You may need to pot them up to a size larger. Check too, to see if the plant has any insects. You may find white fly, aphids, ants, mealy bugs, or heaven forbid, something worse. Spray now and again in two weeks to kill off insects before bringing the plants indoors. Once you have your plants indoors, insects have no natural predators and you may well get a population explosion which could expand to all your other plants. Then you would have to spray indoors and that isn't healthy, even if you use organic sprays.

Another couple of ideas for your vegetable garden. This year, instead of planting winter rye and turning it in next season, why not collect fallen leaves and spread them over the vegetable bed to help prevent erosion. A 3- to 4- inch layer of chopped leaves, an inch or so of seaweed (with a little sand), and some lawn clippings (unsprayed of course), is called sheet composting and has been practiced for years by organic gardeners, but has been popularized as "Lasagna Gardening." When it comes time to plant out next season simply pull back the compost and plant. This method keeps weeds down, recycles leaves and other organic matter, and contributes to the health of your garden.

There are a lot of half-price seed packet sales going on right now. If you like to get an early start next season, you often cannot find the seeds you'd like. Why not buy them now at half price and keep them in the refrigerator. That way you'll have seeds on hand to start new plants in January or whenever you start your spring seeds. Most seeds are viable for at least two years, but if you have any doubts, simply sow them a little more thickly and plant out the seedlings as they emerge.

This is also the time of year to check your gutters and make sure they're clear before autumn leaves start to fall and clog everything. Yes, I know there are devices to prevent gutters filling with leaves. I think every salesman in New England sent me a brochure the last time I mentioned gutters and leaves. Now I have all the brochures I need, thanks.

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