Summer Vacation for the House Plants is Over

Aglaeonema grouping

I am always stunned when I bring my house plants back in after their very brief time outdoors. In my climate, they really are house plants–they are inside from early September through the middle of May each year.

So it wouldn’t seem that a brief few months outside would make so much difference. And yet it does.

In certain plants, like my giant medinilla, it promotes flowering, almost immediately. In others, like the aglaeonema, above, it enhances the colors, even though they summered in the deep shade of a dogwood tree.

Tropical pitcher plant

Then there is this, my nepenthes. It went outside as a single strand of pathetic looking ropey leaves, and no pitchers. This is how it came back in. By next May, we’ll be back to a single strand of ropey leaves, I suspect.

I would say that it was the natural rainwater that helped it, but we had too little this summer for that to be a factor. Maybe it liked all the heat.

In any event, not everything did well. My citrus went outside with lots of lemons and came back with one. The drought and tropical storm winds were not kind to them. Critters thought that lemons might be a good moisture source.

Still, on the whole, my plants almost always come in far better than they went out. This year, the house plants had a better vacation than a lot of people, sadly.

What Insect Apocalypse?

Katydid on fuchsia

I had an interesting experience while I was out walking the dog one quiet Sunday morning not too long ago. Sunrise is getting later so we were out just after sunrise and it was still and quiet–until we approached our property.

As we got in front of the little patch of woods that we have, I heard all sorts of noise. I stopped because I couldn’t identify it at first. I hadn’t heard it anywhere else on the street. Then I realized it was insects. There were cicadas in the trees, and something else chirping, maybe katydids, and I think I am hearing trees frogs.

It’s been so long since I have heard tree frogs that I am not even sure. I used to hear them all the time 20 years ago. Then a new subdivision went in and a lot of trees were taken down and I haven’t heard them since. So how tree frogs might have found their way to our little patch of woods mystifies me, except that it is now one of the few “little patches” of woods left standing.

But whatever I was hearing was so loud that it literally stopped me in my tracks and it was only in front of my property. Everyone else’s property was quiet.

There are all sorts of articles dating back a couple of years ago talking about stories of insect die-offs as dramatic as 75%. This became known as the “insect apocalypse,” and dire warnings and predictions followed.

Fortunately, some of those studies and methodologies proved to be wrong. But for those of us of a certain age, we can notice that, for example, there are fewer of certain types of insects.

I vividly remember the 2 hour car trips to the beach and back as a child. When we arrived around 9 pm in the evening, our windshield and headlights would be bug-spattered.

Car trips of similar duration now don’t leave our cars bug-spattered. And while I am grateful for small favors, I don’t think the insects have become better navigators. I just think there are far fewer of them.

Is this a problem? I will leave that to the scientists to determine. But in the meantime, I will be grateful that I have a cleaner car and a property that welcomes wildlife of all kind, even invertebrates.

If You Want Tulips and Daffodils, Plant Now!

Bulb Catalogs

In gardening, certain things can be put off and certain things cannot. The earth will not stop spinning if you decide that you’re not going to weed for a day–or a week–or even a month. Yes, there may be consequences. As the old saying goes, one year’s weed seeds, 7 years’ weeds.

But if you don’t plant bulbs in the fall, you will not have spring flowering bulbs. And it’s easy to think, “well, I will just buy pots of tulips or daffodils or hyacinths,”–fill in your favorite bulbs–and then plant them–but it’s not as easy to do. Because they come with the foliage (leaves) already attached, you have to let those leaves die off, then plant the bulbs to get them down to the proper depth. By then, it’s early summer–and who wants to leave a patch of earth bare so that you can insert your bulbs then? No, much easier to plant them now.

So what to do? Is it too late to order them from a catalog? Maybe. True bulb lovers began ordering in July, when the bulbs catalogs came out. But there are still some great choices left. You might not get your first choice, but you will get some good ones.

By the way, you might have noticed, my decided preference for Connecticut bulb companies. That surely doesn’t mean that these are the only good companies–it means that these were the immediate catalogs I could grab when I wanted a photo (and yes, incidentally, I did place orders from these growers this year. It just a version of shopping local).

But these are by no means the only excellent bulb companies. I also ordered from Brent and Becky’s bulbs, another wonderful company whose catalog just wasn’t quite as nearby. And no, I get nothing for saying anything about these companies–I just happen to like them.

Can you go to a box store or supermarket and buy them? Yes. But the catalog bulbs are more varied in choice and generally are larger as well.

What’s the point of a larger bulb? Remember, a bulb is just a “storage unit” for the flowers. It contains the energy that the plant needs to product flowers and stems. The larger the bulb, the more prolific the flowers and stems.

If you are someone that needs instant gratification, the next best place to get your bulbs is at a garden center. They generally buy from specialty bulb farms so again, your bulbs will be larger. You’ll also have a larger selection than just tulips and daffodils and the bulb packages will likely have better information (although not always). You’ll also have access to garden center employees who can answer your questions if you have issues with critters or difficult soil.

There are so many bulbs–literally thousands of different kinds–that if one or two types haven’t worked for you, you should definitely find a garden center and try others. Ask for help. Bulbs are a true joy.

And as it gets later in the season, look for sales and close-outs and try some for forcing. You’ll see my posts later this year about forcing hyacinths. I do it all winter. It gets me through the cold, icy and bleak days from November through April.

Fall Is For Planting

I can see that I am going to have to watch this new WordPress format carefully. In addition to being really finicky about posting in advance, its autocorrect is horrific. I will tell it what I want, and it will go back and auto correct over me a second time. So if my posts seem crazy, I am still working the bugs out on my tablet.

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, days are growing shorter, even if it hasn’t yet begun to cool down where you are.

With any luck, there has also been moisture where you are. That makes autumn the perfect time to plant. Obviously I am not talking about planting annuals, although in many places cool season annuals like pansies can over winter right into next spring.

Similarly ornamental cabbage and kale are hardy enough to survive as decorative plantings until it is time to replace them with warm season annuals.

I don’t live in such a place, but I can still plant many things in autumn for next season. One of the things that I tell people is to think about soil almost like a body of water. You know how a lake or the ocean is slow to warm in the spring, but in September the temperature of the water is still perfect for swimming.

The same is true for soil. Our garden soils are also slow to warm in spring as well so plants put into them in spring get a slow start.

But plants put in now, even though they will be going dormant shortly, are getting put into warm soil. There is less adjustment for them (provided you remember to water).

So it’s a great time to plant perennials, trees (if you can find the variety that you want) and shrubs. Again, you must remember to water, if nature isn’t doing it for you, until your ground freezes. Here, in my cool part of the world, that’s usually late November or early December.

On Monday we’ll talk a bit about spring flowering bulbs–which also must be planted now.

We Need To Talk About the Weather

Today is August 31. Tomorrow starts Meteorological Autumn. Yes, I know, the true astronomical start to Autumn isn’t until September 22 (at least here in the Northern Hemisphere). But for those of us that follow the meteorological seasons, Autumn begins September 1. So the last day of summer is today (or it was a month ago if you live in Connecticut where we only get winter and July).

Summer was a doozy here. It was actually summer. For the first time in a long time it was warm most of the time. I didn’t wear fleece in July–very unlike me.

But of course that meant that it was warm–very warm (once the snow stopped in May). We broke the record for 90 degree days. There were 39 of them this year. This is nothing compared to places like Tucson which is breaking its record for 105 degree days but it is still remarkable.

It is also remarkable because it came during the driest summer on record. At my house, during July and August we had less than an inch of rain each month. June wasn’t much better. Our entire state, with the exception of one county, is in severe drought.

Dying rugosa roses in parking lot island

This is just one example of what things look like around our state. And yes, it’s easy to say that this is a hot area surrounded by pavement but these are rugosa roses. They are actually on our invasive plant list. If something like this is browning out, you know it’s bad.

Yellow Knockout rose

This is my garden–my rose garden to be specific. Remember how hardy Knockout roses are supposed to be without any extra water, fertilizer or chemicals? Here’s my yellow Knockout rose, yellowing badly. Others I have are not faring quite so poorly. You can see other roses in this bed holding their own as well. But clearly this Knockout is stressed.

You’ll notice that I talked about the fact that this is weather, not climate. The old saying goes that if you can observe it in your lifetime, it’s weather, not climate.

I won’t make any judgment yet. I will say that this is the second drought–this one being short term so far–that we have had. The last was over a 2-3 year period and was only a couple of years ago.

As for heat, our summers had been relatively mild. It was the night-time temperatures that were creeping up, leading to a lack of cooling overnight. We really haven’t had long-term heat like this.

So no dire predictions from me, just observations. And a remark that when I could get the tomatoes from the critters, they were great. This was a great year for tomatoes!

House Plants–To Compost or Not?

I mentioned on Monday that this is about the time when I cast a critical eye on the house plant collection and decide what’s coming back inside and what’s becoming compost.

Windowsill space is always an issue and there’s no reason to look at plants that I don’t love. Several of the windows are already nicely filled and no plants have come inside yet.

Many of you may wonder why I take the plants in so early. As a general rule, I try to begin transitioning them in on Labor Day weekend. It doesn’t have so much to do with temperature as it does with light.

If I leave them out a few weeks later–as I have on occasion– when I bring them in, they drop a lot more leaves. So I try to avoid that.

Ruella

This ruellia may not make the cut. There’s nothing really wrong with the plant, but it does nothing for me and the drooping habit is depressing. Who needs depressing plants right now?

Dracena

It’s a good bet this one is gone. Again, the problems speak for themselves (I think). I could try to salvage and root the top, I suppose but why? It’s such a common plant.

Aglaeonema

This is the one I am not sure about. Something–chipmunks? Squirrels? Keeps making a mess and using the pot to cache their nuts. In the process, pieces of the plant are broken and uprooted. I may try to salvage it just before I bring it in. We’ll see.

And there may be others. Because after all, I will need room to aquire a few new plants too.