Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.

September 2010

Spider plants are one of my favorite groundcovers. The variegated form looks great as an underplanting around roses or lining the edge of a perennial bed. Although you can purchase spider plants at garden centers or nurseries that stock indoor plants, you can also propagate all that you need by rooting the “babies” at this time of year and carrying them through the winter as houseplants.

With an average first freeze date of October 12 here in Des Moines, it’s time to snip the spiders and start some new plants for next year. I simply stick 3 or 4 of the plantlets into a 4-inch pot filled with potting soil, moisten, and keep watered well until roots form. In just a few weeks I’ll have 40 or 50 rooted plants. For more on how to start plants from cuttings follow this link.

Spider plants and Elfin thyme rooting in flats in my greenhouse.

Other tender plants that I root at this time of year include coleus and Mexican sage (Salvia leucantha). Like spider plants, rooted coleus overwinter well as houseplants. The Mexican sage needs brighter light, so it stays in the greenhouse over winter.

This year I’m also starting several flats of Elfin thyme (Thymus serpyllum ‘Minus’), a wonderful low creeper that tolerates some foot traffic. I’ll plant it as an edging around some new beds that I started this year. I guess that you could say that October 1st marks the beginning of the winter gardening season, moving from an outdoor emphasis to indoors, or if you’re lucky, into the greenhouse.

The greens outside aren’t as green as they used to be. Fall is in the air and that means trees and shrubs are preparing to put on their fall show. How does your yard look in autumn? If you’ve been wanting to put on more of a show, here are some tips.

Shop in fall. Visit your local garden center or nursery as trees and shrubs are putting on their fall finery; that will give you a chance to see the colors the plants develop (and which plants tend to be brightest).

Create a backdrop. One way to highlight bright colors, especially yellows and oranges, is to plant them in front of evergreens. Rich dark greens, like many pines and spruces, are particularly nice, but you can also create some eye-popping fall combos by dropping your favorite fall shrubs in front of silvery-blue plants like blue spruce.

Think about berries. Fall color can come from fruits, as well as foliage. You can’t help but notice some plants such as beautyberry (Callicarpa) when their brightly colored berries take center stage in the garden.

Plant fall flowers. There’s a whole world of great fall perennials beyond mums and asters. Add cheer to your landscape with brightly colored goldenrod (Solidago), toad lily (Tricyrtis), and more!

By the way: Interested in why/how tree leaves turn color in fall? Check out this story!

My ‘Lady Margaret’ passionflower is blooming up a storm, adding a tropical touch to my front porch. Sadly, the weather forecast is predicting temperatures in the 30s next weekend, reminding me that summer has passed.

Happily, passionflowers are pretty easy to keep growing indoors if you have a big, bright window. In fact, you can overwinter a lot of tender plants, including elephant’s ears, geraniums, tropical hibiscus, coleus, and mandevilla.

The key to success is lots of light. Unobstructed south- or west-facing windows are ideal, and the bigger the better. If you don’t have windows that work, you can also set up a shop light inside to host some of your favorite plants. Believe it or not, most will grow just fine without any natural light at all!

One other key thing to watch for if you move plants inside is drafts. Avoid putting plants near drafty doors or windows, and be sure to keep them away from heat vents. Because most tropicals come from humid areas, grouping plants together or using a humidity tray can help keep them from developing brown leaf edges over the winter.

I’ve been really busy lately, and I have to confess I’ve not spent as much time in the garden as I should have. It really took me by surprise the other day when I looked out the window and was greeted to a big burst of color from my Japanese anemones.

If you have plenty of space for it, Japanese anemone is a great pick for the fall landscape. A well-established plant produces tons of blooms that are cheery and held on tall stems that make them perfect for cutting.

Japanese anemone can be a bit of a thug, spreading rapidly, so don’t plant it next to delicate or dainty plants that could be overrun.

It does best in partial shade and moist, well-drained soil that’s rich in organic matter. It can take quite a bit of shade, though less light will mean fewer blooms.

The flowers appear in white or pink with cheery yellow centers. They last just shy of a week when cut and brought indoors for arrangements.

This came up in my lawn a few weeks ago. Unlike most mushrooms that pop up with seeming randomness, this one appeared exactly where I would have expected. I cut down a diseased willow tree recently (is there any other kind?!) and ended up leaving quite a few roots in the ground. So the infected roots continued to harbor the fungus, which eventually sent up this thing where the tree used to be.

It’s some sort of what they call a shelf fungus, I think. More typically, these grow out of the branches of infected trees. But since I cut the the tree down, all that was left were underground roots and the only way the fungus could produce its mushroom (basidiocarp, in the scientific vernacular) was up and out of the ground. Anyway, I though it was cool looking. And it was a big one — about 8 inches across.

Something growing in my lawn

Something growing in my lawn

Cassava and coleusThis beauty of a container comes from the Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden. It’s a lot of fun, eh? And pretty simple! It contains variegated cassava (Manihot esculenta ‘Variegata’) and a couple of kinds of coleus. I think it’s a great example of how you create a really dramatic container planing with just a few plants.

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