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It's Cleanup Time!
by Dan Clost
by Dan Clost


First serious garden earned 25 cents from the Kemptville Horticultural Society when I was 12. Have been poor in horticulture ever since but rich in spirit.

Went to work writing the Good Earth column (over 500 articles published in newspaper, magazine, website and journal.) and learned that what was printed wasn't what I wanted to say and certainly not what Gentle Reader understood me to say. Subsequently have developed a certain clarity and economy of words.

Day job- nursery and production manager for a large nursery/garden centre
Side job- Garden restoration and renovations, design consultations, remedial pruning.
Night job- garden writer and communicator (overnight success in another 20 years)

Dan gardens in Canadian Zone 5b

October 14, 2001

It's time to take down the hanging plants, empty out containers, and stash everything away into storage until next year. Would that it were that simple. Let's skip right past the psychologically shattering thoughts of last blooms, final fragrances and the first cold nor'easter. All of that is a tad depressing so we won't mention it. The only people I know who don't seem to be bothered by season's end are the migratory members of our species, Hominus aviatus (snowbirds).
Before you start emptying your containers take stock of the plants growing in them. [My daughter liked that pun.] Decide which ones are coming into the house, which will have cuttings taken off, which are seed donors and which are compost. Compare the requirements of the first two categories with the available space in your home. Although there is a lot of unused space on the freezer, washer and dryer, you are not allowed to set up a nursery there. Whichever person takes on the laundry chores may disagree with you and I would hate to think that the love of plants could ever generate domestic dissension.
This might pare down your keep list somewhat. That doesn't mean more fodder for the compost: visit your gardening friends. Maybe your gazanias could be traded for some kalanchoe, zebrina for rosemary and so on. One plant that I often like to bring indoors is carnations. They won't bloom but their foliage looks quite nice until about February. At this point we dust off the plastic, everblooming hibiscus and display it with a subtle prominence. 
We've discussed cuttings before so we won't spend a lot of time on them. Once you've taken a stem tip cutting, pare down the leaf area using a clean sharp set of scissors. Recall that, since their are no roots, there is not a lot of place to store photosynthate; hence, a lot of leaf is not needed. A medium such as perlite, vermiculite or coarse sand is acceptable: some plants, such as pothos, do quite well in a glass of water. A quick hint here, when the water level drops, gently add room temperature water to the container. Don't empty out the water and replace it with fresh. If you think it's becoming a tad grotty, plop in a piece of charcoal. Once you see a nice set of fine white root hairs, you can transplant into a flat or container. The reason we went this far with cuttings is that we wanted to get to the "s" word- space. It's quite easy to use several cell packs or small tumblers to start your new plants but now you're looking for space and the top of the washing machine is still unavailable. 'Nuff said about space.
What to do with your containers? Let's talk about the plastic hanging variety that most of us have; some of us have even painted one or two. We need to be aware that sunlight will affect the pliability of the unpainted plastic. With prolonged exposure, sometimes even one season is enough, the container can become quite brittle and crack easily. Or, the motion caused by the wind may produce enough stress at the hanger attachment causing it to fail. Many a family cat has been unfairly punished for a grounded pot of petunias. Older pots should be replaced by newer ones but do keep the drainage insert for other use.
Terra cotta pots have two primary outdoor uses. The first is obvious, the second is to become pottery shards to be placed over drainage holes. To avoid the second, don't let them freeze with soil inside them. Empty pots should be washed out with a mild bleach solution, dried and then stored in a spot where they won't be jostled in the cold weather.
Just before you place them into storage, do one more bit of forward planning. Determine which ones you will be using first next season and store accordingly. This is the last call for a list of favourite and not-so-favourite garden plants. 

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