Top up and refresh. As the days begin to get shorter I like to freshen up my houseplants by loosening the soil at the top of the pots, dumping a bit off, and adding some new potting mix to rejuvenate their look. If your plants have been tucked into garden beds in their pots, start to unearth and scrub the pots down. Bring them onto a porch or patio to begin the great migration indoors. Starting now through the first couple of weeks of October, bring them inside so they get acclimated before the heat's turned on and windows are closed for the season. Move Christmas cactus and Clivia last because the cool weather and shorter days will help trigger their bloom cycle. For information on their care, go to http://tinyurl.com/9e7oxtz.
If your plants are too big to bring in, take cuttings. You can do that now with coleus, wandering Jew, geraniums, and basil. (The cooler it gets at night, the harder the stems get, making it more difficult to get cuttings to root easily.) Cut off the top four inches of the plant and clean, then compost, the lower leaves. Lay the cleaned cuttings in a sink or basin filled with room-temperature water for about 10 minutes. Gently swish them around and check for critters; flying and crawling insects usually come off during this process. The bath also provides hydration for the cuttings before they're potted up. Place two to four cuttings in a four-inch or six-inch pot filled with sterilized potting mix. Thoroughly moisten and allow the soil mix to drain before adding the cuttings. Then slip the pot into a clear plastic bag and place it in a north-facing window, away from direct sunlight. During root development, you may have to add water to the tender cuttings in the bag or, if there's too much condensation, open the bag. After about 10 days, tug gently on the plant. If the stems don't move easily, you'll know your plants have roots. They're ready to take out of the bag and move to a sunny window for the winter.
Beware of weird-looking growth. Aster yellows disease is fairly common and has been discovered on Echinacea (coneflower) in a reader's garden and on other plants in the region. It can affect marigolds, petunias, chrysanthemums, cockscomb, and more. In Echinacea, the petals turn green and never fully develop. Sometimes plants get distorted or have irregular growth or yellowing veins on the leaves. The disease is caused by a bacteria-like organism (phytoplasma) and is spread by leafhoppers chewing on plants. Extreme weather conditions can cause these insects to appear in great numbers. Infected plants should be removed and destroyed (not composted). Insecticides are not recommended for home use. For more information on aster yellows disease, go to
Fertilize lawns. Use a top dressing of compost raked into the lawn as a natural slow-release fertilizer. You could also buy an organic granular type.
Plant old faithfuls. Tulipa greigii and T. tarda are both great tulips to plant now for next year's spring color. I have both in my garden, and they return year after year with consistent performance. These types are smaller than the typical Darwin hybrids and have a compact growth habit. T. greigii 'Little Red Riding Hood' has brilliant red flowers and striped foliage, which adds additional interest to the garden border. I like to plant these in large patches with daffodils so the squirrels don't eat them. Daffodils are poisonous to critters and keep them away. You can also cover bulbs with chicken wire to keep squirrels from dining.
Eva Monheim is a certified arborist, master floral designer, and fulltime lecturer in horticulture at Temple University Ambler; she is also an instructor at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org