Enjoy those garden labors, free new plants, and bulb-ordering: This Weekend in the Garden – pennlive.com


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The No. 2 best garden monthTake some time this Labor Day weekend to enjoy the fruits (and flowers) of your gardening labors.May is hard to beat as Pennsylvania’s most pleasant month in the garden, but September gives it a run for its moneywort.The daytime heat of July and August usually backs off into the 70s and low-80s this time of year, although a few last-gasp, 90-degree heat flashes can’t be ruled out.Rain happens more often in September, too. Usually. Although we can get thunder-stormish and hurricane-remnant dumpings, we can also see gentle daylong, late-summer dousings.It’s refreshing to see heat-beat plants perk up following a cool, September soaking rain. Just when you thought the landscape was ready to call it quits.Cooling temperatures and more frequent rain add up to a month that’s perfect for a lot of yard jobs, which you can get to after your holiday-weekend break.Patching a thin lawn or starting a new one is a prime project for September.It’s also a great time to plant most plants or move ones you’ve realized are in the wrong spot.Fall planting offers one other plus – reduced weed competition. Far fewer weeds germinate in fall than spring, so when you dig that soil and start watering your new plants, you won’t get more dandelions than dianthus.We’re still a month and a half away from fall-foliage glory, but in the meantime, enjoy the mums, asters, goldenrod, sedum, those harvests from the vegetable garden, and the year’s second best bloom time for roses.Pinch the lower leaves off tip cuttings, left, and dip them in rooting hormone powder, right, before sticking them in potting mix.New plants from cuttingsStarting from seed isn’t the only way to make a new plant.Many plants can be started from cuttings taken from the tips of mother plants.It’s easier than you think, and now’s a good time to give it a try if you’d like to keep and/or increase the number of plants you have growing in the landscape this year.The basic idea is to snip tips off of the branches of parent plants and persuade them to root in potting mix. Once roots emerge from these “cuttings,” you have a new baby plant.Some plants do this much easier than others. Coleus, begonias, lantana, salvia, geraniums, butterfly bush, boxwoods, Persian shield, umbrella plant, and elderberry are some of the easiest.But even if you fail, you have little to lose but your time and a lot to gain, i.e. free plants.A bonus of cuttings is that it gives you exact copies of the plant you’re reproducing. Seeds give you more variable results.September is a good month for rooting cuttings from annuals, tropicals, perennials, and even many trees, shrubs, and evergreens.It’s especially important to get busy now on tender plants that will die once frost hits.With woody plants, if you fail now, don’t give up. Timing makes a bigger difference with them. If cuttings don’t “take” in fall, try again with cuttings from younger branch tips in June.Here’s a cutting how-to: 1.) Cut 4- to 6-inch tips off of the end of healthy stems or branches.2.) Remove the lowest leaves so that at least one – and preferably two – sets of nodes are bare. Nodes are the point from which shoots emerge. They’re also where new roots will emerge from cuttings.3.) Treat the cut end with a rooting hormone powder (available at most garden centers). Hormones help, but many cuttings will root even without it. Ideally, pour the powder onto a clean surface and roll the cut end into it. Dipping cut ends into the powder container can spread infection in case one of your cuttings is diseased.4.) Insert a pencil into a pot filled with light-weight potting mix or seed-starting medium to create a small hole. Insert the powdered end of the cutting into the moist rooting medium, covering the nodes.5.) Water well, and cover the pot with clear plastic wrap or a plastic bag to maintain a moist environment.6.) Set pots in light, but not direct sun. Make sure they don’t dry out. Cuttings should be taken inside before any inkling of frost. When small leaves emerge, that’s a signal roots are establishing.7.) Remove the plastic, and treat the rooted “start” as you would any other young, potted plant. Keep the potting mix damp, and begin adding a dilute fertilizer to the water every other week.Spring-flowering bulbs should be adequately dried before they're shipped and sold for planting.Plan for but don’t plant bulbs yetSpring-flowering bulbs start showing up at garden centers and box stores about now, but it’s too early to plant them.Tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and such perform best when they’ve had adequate time to cure after harvest, then go in the ground as the soil is cooling in October.That doesn’t mean it’s too soon to order them from catalogs. You’ll get in line for the best selection if you order now, then the vendor will ship you the bulbs at the prime planting time.Besides being too hot to plant now, bulbs that have been shipped for retail this early might not have cured long enough, which can lead to rotting and fungal issues when too-damp bulbs are packed prematurely.The Colorblends catalog explains the problem candidly: “Bulbs in general, and especially daffodils, need to mature after harvesting. Harvest time for daffodils is late July or early August. The bulbs are dug by machine and dropped on the soil. ... If they are left in the open for at least two weeks, much of the drying will be done naturally.“The problem is that bulb growers are being forced to harvest and ship daffodils too early. Why? The exporters in the Netherlands want to take delivery of the bulbs before Aug. 10 and sometimes before Aug. 5 so they can ship daffodils with their other bulbs (tulips, crocuses, etc.) to the United States.“Their customers in the U.S., the buyers for the big box stores, demand that bulbs be delivered by late August. That way the bulbs are on display for an extra two weeks before the Halloween and Christmas merchandise pushes them off the shelves.“If you honor this schedule, it is impossible to give daffodils a proper drying. You have to take the bulbs from the field within a week after digging them. The moisture in the bulbs has much more difficulty escaping during the grading, packing, and shipping process. Or it doesn’t come out at all.“The result is daffodils that are not mature. They will be stored and shipped in an environment with higher humidity because of the moisture they continue to release. This humidity provides an ideal environment for all kinds of fungus to grow and damage the bulbs.”If you do decide to buy retail early, check the packages carefully for rotting and then store the bulbs in a cool, dry area until a more ideal planting time in late September through October.You can also get your bulb beds ready to plant now if you’re eager to do something.Loosen the soil 10 to 12 inches deep, and work in about two inches of compost or similar organic matter to create slightly raised beds.Rake smooth, top the soil with about two inches of bark mulch, and you’ll be ready to insert bulbs in fall.Note to readers: if you purchase something through one of our affiliate links we may earn a commission.
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