Dear Helen: How can I save my geranium plants for setting out again in the garden next spring?
Dear K.M.: I'm guessing you have zonal geraniums (Pelargonium hortorum), the most popular for summer display in garden beds and containers. A sure and easy way to keep the plants going is to take cuttings for compact plants to winter on a bright windowsill. Keep the soil on the dry side during the rooting period and avoid pouring water on the stem. These cuttings need no plastic humidity tent during rooting.
A 'Vancouver Centennial' variegated Pelargonium put on a splendid show on my patio this summer. I usually take cuttings in August or September, but I got around to taking cuttings of this plant a couple of weeks ago. They'll be fine. The parent plant was still in fine shape in the mild weather. By February, there should be enough growth to take cuttings from the wintered plants, for extended numbers of Pelargoniums to plant outdoors in the spring.
Dear Helen: I want to spread seaweed from a nearby beach on my garden, but I'm wondering whether the salt content will be harmful to the soil and plants. I hope I don't need to wash it.
Dear B.R.: I've never washed seaweed before using it in the garden, but I'm always careful to gather it freshly washed in on rocky beaches, so that it is not mixed with sand. And I use seaweed carefully, and not everywhere in the garden.
I spread seaweed no more than five centimetres deep on emptied annual flower and vegetable plots, and dig it under to decompose. I don't spread it around trees, shrubs and perennials. I've heard of people killing rhododendrons that way.
Winter and overwintering cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower plants do well with a light mulching with seaweed. Cleaned up asparagus beds can be given the same treatment. Tomatoes seem to grow especially well in soil plumped the previous fall with seaweed.
Another great use for seaweed is in compost heaps, where it activates decomposition and adds nutrient value to the finished product. Seaweed is rich in trace minerals needed by plants. To put a compost heap to bed for the winter, fork in some seaweed and then spread more over top and sides before covering the heap lightly with a tarp or plastic sheet.
November storms often deliver large amounts of seaweed to our beaches.
Dear Helen: This year, a number of my tomato plants developed a purplish tinge to some of their leaves. The plants also did not flower until far too late to produce any fruit.
Dear P.S.: Late flowering and darkened or purplish foliage can be a characteristic of the variety, but both symptoms can also indicate inadequate levels of phosphorus in the soil. The darkened or purplish colouring appears first on older, lower leaves.
Phosphorus uptake and absorption also depend on temperature. Even in soils adequately supplied with phosphorus absorption of this element will be limited at soil temperatures below 13 C. Purplish leaves are often seen on bedding plants like marigolds planted too early in cold soils.
This temperature issue, however, should not have been a factor in the warmth of summer. Consider adding a little extra phosphorus to your fertilizing regime. Common natural sources for phosphorus are bone meal and rock phosphate.
In case we have yet another long, cold spring next year, include some early varieties and patio tomatoes in your tomato repertoire for 2013.
Holiday wreaths and sprays. The Horticulture Centre of the Pacific, 505 Quayle Rd. in Saanich, is offering these popular holiday courses. For more information or to register please call 250-479-6162. hcp.ca.
? Holiday Wreath Making, at a choice of four times: Friday, Nov. 23, 9: 30 a.m. to 12: 30 p.m. or 1: 30 to 4: 30 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 24, 1 to 4 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 25, 1 to 4 p.m. Using a wide variety of greens, participants will learn the techniques of wreath-making and take home an imaginative and unique decoration. The course instructor is Lynda Dowling. Cost, including materials, for HCP members $35, others $45.
? Swags and Door Sprays, Saturday, Dec. 1, 1 to 4 p.m. Floral designer Anne Bowen will help participants take advantage of HCP garden bounty to make beautiful front door, entryway or mantle decorations. Bowen will also demonstrate techniques for turning your existing outdoor containers into holiday decorations. Cost, including materials, for members $40, for others $50.
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