Friday, September 03, 2004



"Repot houseplants now to give them a fresh start before they return indoors. I use a mixture of commercial potting mix and compost with extra additions of perlite, bonemeal, and poultry grit. If you tend to have root rot or other drainage problems in your houseplants, take a tip from the bonsai masters of Japan, and use a sieve or a window screen to remove all of the smallest particles from your soil mix. Some of your garden veggies can also be potted up if you would like to try to over winter them. Tomatoes and peppers are actually perennials in their native habitats and will produce all winter given the right conditions. The right conditions aren't always that easy to create indoors, most of my veggies succumb to lack of sunlight. But there's no harm in trying. This year I plan to supplement peppers with bottom heat in order to coddle them more.

Take cuttings of tender perennials and annuals that you want to overwinter. There are dozens of theories as to which methods give the best results, but the general idea is this: cut a 6 to 8 inch piece of the plant, remove most of the leaves and pot it in a well drained mix (such as peat and sand), and keep moist. Most species will root in four weeks. Rooting hormones are not necessary; the difference in the success rate is negligible. Humans have been cloning plants like this for thousands of years; your grandmother called clones "slips".

Keep sowing fall crops every two weeks until about the end of the month. This will keep you in greens and radishes until frost. Some cool weather crops, such as carrots and parsnips, actually taste better after frost. You can't buy frost-sweetened carrots at any store.

Empty your compost bin and start anew. Garden and kitchen waste for starting your new pile are abundant. Don't bother to add compost starter. Unless you are trying to make two-week compost, it's a waste of money. There are plenty of bacteria, fungi, and other critters in a shovelful of soil or finished compost to get things cooking. Fast compost is possible, but labor-intensive, because all ingredients must be shredded and well mixed, with attention paid to carbon-to-nitrogen ratios. Check out the Rodale Book of Composting for various compost techniques.

Slugs will take advantage of cool, moist conditions to ravage your plantings. So go slug hunting! The West coast may have us beat with their seven-inch banana slugs, but here in the Midwest we have some doozies too. I can go out on a moist night and collect nearly one hundred five-inchers in my yard. Let me elaborate on some slug hunting ground rules. Wear shoes. There is no experience quite like crushing a great slimy monster with your bare feet. Wear gloves. Trying to pick up slugs with anything but your fingers is an immense waste of time. You could snip them with scissors, but why would you want to ruin your tools like that? Go out after dark when they are on the move, and hand pick them into a bucket of soapy water. The soap in the water prevents them from crawling out, and they drown. When you are tending your beds you may also notice slug eggs, which look like a cluster of clear, quarter-inch ovals. Dispatch these by covering them with a little Epsom salts.

Bulbs are available everywhere right now, even at the chain stores, but I get mine at a local garden center where I can inspect each bulb, buy in bulk, and mix and match. Ask about varieties for naturalizing (some hybrids need to be dug and replanted every few years to maintain vigor). After trying several gimmicky bulb-planting tools, I have found the perfect one... a plain old spade. I plant bulbs at the recommended depth or an inch deeper, loosening the soil beneath and adding some Espoma Garden tone and bonemeal. Once they are planted, I cover the area with chicken wire to keep the squirrels out. Garlic falls into the bulb category, and should be planted soon. Frankly, the best garlic comes from mail-order retailers; as grocery store garlic is usually a variety better suited to warmer climates. has a nice selection.

Stock up now on supplies you will need during winter and early spring, such as potting soil and seed starting equipment. They tend to be on sale now because many garden centers need to reduce their inventory, or will be closing for the season sooner rather than later. I know from experience how hard it is to find sphagnum moss in January. It's also your last chance to mail order anything and receive it before frost, so place those orders for plants soon. Before you send a payment, you can check out a mail order establishment at This is a great site where you can rate your experience with a retailer and read the comments of others. They have rated thousands of retailers and you can even search by category."

[This excellent advice from The Organic Gardening Almanac Newsletter
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