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With fall's arrival, the fate of many garden plants is in jeopardy. Of course the hardy perennial plants, be they woody or herbaceous, will survive very nicely. The plants in question are the annuals or, more correctly, the tender perennials that we use as summer annuals and might want to save.
Included in this group are geraniums, tender grasses and many other plants. This also includes many plants commonly called summer bulbs. Cannas, dahlias, tuberous begonias and gladiolus fit into this group of plants. Saving plants is one way to keep some specimens for the next gardening season.
I tend to wait too long and save too much from my garden. There is no garden rule that says you cannot salvage your plants until after the winter storms come. Avoid the unpleasant experience of fighting the cold and the mud by taking care of the task a little earlier this year.
Don't try to preserve the entire garden until next year. Selectivity is a virtue, so choose only the best plants and let Mother Nature recycle anything that is marginal. Avoid saving plants that are diseased, that insects have chewed or that have not grown well this season.
Sanitize everything you save prior to bringing them indoors. Germs are not the worry here. The potential problems are insects that come in as either adults or eggs. Once they are inside, they have ideal conditions to reproduce. Ideal temperatures and the lack of predators or parasites to keep the pests in check allow them to spread. They quickly become pests inside the home. They are difficult to control because spraying inside the home is not always possible.
Spray the plants with malathion or pyretherum to kill the pests before bringing them inside. If you prefer not to spray, turn the plants upside down and wash the bottoms of the leaves because most pests live and lay their eggs there.
Geraniums are easy to save. I prefer to lift the large plants and replant them in pots. Since I have a small greenhouse, I keep the plants inside for the winter. Next spring, I can take cuttings and start new plants for setting in the garden. The large stock plants can then be planted outside. Some gardeners take cuttings right now and root them this fall. These plants need a sunny place to spend the winter if they are going to look good next spring.
Several other plants are easy to start from cuttings if you want to save them. Coleus plants are inexpensive to purchase and easy to grow. The problem is that some varieties do not come true from seed. Those special colors and textures can easily be perpetuated by rooting small cuttings. A tip cutting about three inches long will easily form new roots. Fill a small pot with vermiculite, sand or perlite. Place the cuttings in the moistened growing medium and then place the pot inside a plastic bag. After the cuttings form roots, pot them and grow them throughout the winter. Additional cuttings can be taken next spring as needed.
Purple fountain grass is easily propagated by divisions but will not grow easily from seed. Dig several large plants and replant them into pots. Cut them back to 8 to 12 inches to get rid of the excess top growth. Keep the plants where they will not freeze and do not overwater them. Overwatering will quickly rot the roots, and the plants will die. Next spring, they will look dead, but they can be divided and repotted to produce new plants.