When outdoor temperatures really start dipping and mums and pumpkins make their appearance on doorsteps, it’s time to start preparing plants and the garden for winter. After being nurtured all summer long, expensive, annual flowers will soon be dumped from their pots and extracted from the ground then sadly, trashed. But you don’t have to.

Re-use tender tubers

If you grew expensive dahlias or canna lilies in your garden this year don’t toss them just because it’s the end of the growing season. These tender perennials can be saved and replanted next year after risk of frost. Dahlia tubers and canna rhizomes can be dug up once tops are killed by autumn frost, cleaned off, trimmed, and stored away in a frost-free basement or garage (5-12 ℃). Label them before winter storage to avoid any identification problems later.

Pelargoniums

Pelargoniums, better known as geraniums, are favourite summer annuals that gardeners have trouble parting with once cold weather sets in. For this reason, and due to their higher cost, treasured pelargoniums often find a winter home indoors in pots by a sunny window. Since they can get large and lanky, especially after several winters indoors, cutting the plant back by at least half before bringing them indoors will control size while eliminating of any lingering insect pests. Alternately, geraniums can be dug up in fall, cut back, cleaned and tucked away in boxes filled with moist soil medium or bare roots can be overwintered in paper bags or hung upside down in a cool basement until growth starts to resume in March. Individual pots of small geranium cuttings will give you healthy and attractive nursery-sized specimens by springtime, which are perfect for planting in containers and hanging baskets.

Propagate with tip cuttings

Pots of annual flowers and herbs don’t always survive inside overheated, dry home environments that lack the sunlight and moisture they crave. If you haven’t had success with overwintering pots of annuals in your home you can propagate new flowers by cutting fresh growth off the mother plant. Popular annuals — petunias, coleus, impatiens, snapdragons, sweet potato vine and even herbs like rosemary — are simple enough to propagate by tip cuttings. Here’s how it’s done:

First, cut an 8 -15cm piece of healthy, growing stem off the annual with a clean, sharp tool and strip the bottom stem of leaves. Leave 2-4 healthy leaves but remove any flowers. Then, dip the bottom of the cutting in a little rooting hormone and place it in a moist, sterile growing medium such as perlite or vermiculite. Put a few cuttings in the same pot and cover loosely with a plastic bag or cloche to keep humidity in. (Omit this step when propagating geraniums, which require proper air circulation to prevent damping off disease).

Cuttings should be kept away from direct sunlight until rooted, in about 6 to 8 weeks. You’ll know cuttings have rooted when they resist a gentle tug. Finally, place rooted cuttings in individual pots with fresh potting soil and increase the light until next spring(inexpensive grow lights or fluorescent shop lights work well). Water when soil is dry.

You don’t have to fill your entire home with cuttings — starting small is advisable. But once you successfully grow a few you may be hooked. So save some cash and try growing a few before frost makes mush of your summer flowers. Saving money is possible when you overwinter annuals indoors or grow more with tip cuttings. The difficult part will be not spending your savings on other flowers.

Elaine Sanders can be reached at www.solutionsjardins.com

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