Moving plants inside

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By David Graper

SDSU Extension Horticulture Specialist

Q I have some beautiful poinsettias, gerber daisies, hibiscus tree, geraniums that I plant in the ground in the spring and bring them back inside in the fall. They always lose all their leaves and are sickly all winter but I keep them alive. Pictured is one of my poinsettias that is huge! How do I move this (and others) into a pot and make the transition indoors so it stays beautiful?

A There are several factors that come into play in a situation like this. The first is growing in garden in soil vs. growing in a pot. Generally speaking, our garden soil does not make good potting soil. It will often contain too much clay which makes it poorly drained leading to problems with root rot. You did not say if you repotted the plants using a potting media or not, but that would be my first suggestion. Remove much of the original soil, then repot using a good quality potting mix. These usually contain amendments like perlite that help to improve aeration while yet allowing for good water holding capacity. The second issue is light. Light levels decrease naturally during the winter but can be much lower inside the home particularly if plants are not grown with good access to what sunlight there is by being placed close to windows. Supplemental lighting can help with this problem, particularly if plant grow lights are used. The third issue is humidity. Relative humidity inside the home can be very low, particularly once furnaces are turned on for heating. Placing plants on gravel trays can help tremendously to provide a micro-climate of higher humidity. Overwatering is another common problem. Do not water the plants until the soil feels dry, then it should be saturated, allowing the excess to drain out the bottom of the pot. However, plants should not be allowed to sit in water after it has drained out either. Poinsettias in particular are susceptible to overwatering.

You mention in your question that plants usually drop all their leaves. This sounds like a water problem relating to any or all of the following: poor soil drainage, overwatering, not watering enough, or low humidity. It can also be related to low light levels. It would be helpful to see what your plants look like after they show symptoms inside the home.

What cause leaves to turn color in the fall?

By John Ball

SDSU Extension Forestry Specialist, Forest Health Specialist, South Dakota Department of Agriculture.

Fall color is seasonal phenomena that notes the beginning for trees to prepare for the cold weather ahead. The triggers for autumn foliage to begin to color are increasing length to the night followed by cold night temperatures. These are the cues trees use to begin the process of acclimating or preparing for winter. As part of this process deciduous trees shed their leaves. However, leaves do not just fall; they first develop an abscission layer at the base of the petiole (the leaf stalk). This abscission layer is a separation layer of thin walled cells that eventually breaks allowing the leaf blade and the petiole to fall. A protective layer on the twig of thick corky cells then seals the abscission point and prevents pathogens from entering this wound.

This corky layer of cells also slows the movement of water and elements into the leaf while it is still attached and restricts the movement of sugars out of the leaf. This biological roadblock influences the development of the two main autumn foliage color hues, the reds and the yellows. Yellow pigments, primarily carotenoids, but also lycopenes, are always present in the leaf but are masked by the green chlorophyll. As chlorophyll begins to break down with the blockage of the movement of water and elements, the underlying yellow begins to show through. Quaking aspen is probably the tree with the brightest yellow fall color. There are hillsides in the Black Hills that have ribbons of yellow from the changing aspen trees. Many birches have good yellow color and even green ash and cottonwood can have a nice display of yellow in many years. The red foliage colors are not unmasked but created. Anthocyanins, responsible for the reds, result from the buildup of sugars in the leaf and these create the bright reds. The best red color is found in the maples, particularly sugar maple and the many cultivars of Freeman maple such as Autumn Fantasy and Firefall maple.

Autumn foliage color is at its best when we have a combination of sunny, mild days and cool – but not freezing – nights. Freezes can result in leaf browning rather than coloring and excessive rains in the fall reduce the warm sunny weather important in the formation of sugars. If we also have warm nights, a condition that may areas experienced until recently, color also does not develop as well. Unfortunately, the weather appears to be turning to very cold and with the subfreezing nights upon us, leaves will soon be falling. We may not see much fall color this year, or at least as good as many other years.

Broadleaf trees are not the only ones to turn color in the autumn, many of our evergreens do as well. This color change and shedding is sometimes greeted with alarm by homeowners who believe their tree is dying when it is just a normal seasonal process. This year the color is even more noticeable as the dry, sunny weather seems to make the older foliage turn almost a straw yellow before it is shed. This is very noticeable on the pines, particularly Austrian and white pine, where many trees are almost a straw-yellowing in the interior of the tree. Spruces generally do not have their older foliage turn yellow, brown is more common, and not nearly as attractive.

Planting garlic

By Mary Roduner, Former Consumer Horticulture Field Specialist

Garlic is one of the great additions to your cooking. Fresh garlic, not store bought, is crisp and juicy with a bright flavor that is lost as the bulbs sit in long term warehouse storage. Having a fresh supply of this delicious member of the lily family could be considered one of the most precious possessions of a true foodie.

Like ornamental bulbs, garlic is planted late in the fall. During late fall before the soil freezes, roots develop and the cold treatment stimulates it to split into individual cloves.

Before planting, you need to choose the proper type of garlic for your area. Do not use garlic purchased at the grocery store. It can be harboring bacterial, viral or fungal diseases that do not affect cooking quality but will prevent it from growing and developing properly. Garlic for planting can be purchased from your local nursery or online from a company that specializes in certified disease free stock.

Garlic can be found in the following types:

• Softneck – This is the type most commonly found in grocery stores. It grows best in areas with warmer winters. The center stem is soft and dries to a papery consistency. Softneck varieties are the garlic found made into garlic braids. Softneck garlic is categorized as either Artichoke or Silverskin types. They are good for long term storage but have a mild flavor, 15-18 cloves per head and can be difficult to peel. There are many different varieties to choose from.

• Hardneck – The center stem in these garlics is very hard and often needs strong pruners to trim back at harvest, giving them their name. They grow best in colder climates with a cool damp spring. Often variety names are Eastern European reflecting where the varieties originated. An easy rule of thumb is if the variety sounds like it came from a cold area, it probably will grow well in South Dakota. Hardnecks can be found under the terms Rocambole/Turban/Creole/Asiatic. Each head will produce 4-5 large easy to peel cloves. The flavor varies by variety but is stronger and more vibrant than softnecks. Some varieties have a great deal of heat and are excellent for roasting which moderates the heat and adds a nutty flavor.

Before planting garlic prepare the soil well. Cultivate at least eight inches deep, working compost into the soil. Garlic is like onions; they do not tolerate hard packed soils and will not produce large bulbs in those conditions.

Garlic can be planted in a block configuration. This saves space allowing more to be grown in a small area. Separate the bulb into individual cloves. Leave the peel and basal plate (old root area) intact. Peeling the cloves will expose them to fungal diseases and rot if the soil gets too wet.

Space the cloves 4-5” apart in all directions and 4-6” deep. This depth will help them overwinter without freezing. Firm the soil so there are no air spaces and water thoroughly. Do not add fertilizer at this point. When the soil has frozen, put 6-8” of straw or leaf mulch on top. This will prevent frost heave if there are freeze/thaw cycles.

As the ground thaws in the spring, check under the mulch frequently and look for green tops peeking out. Once the danger of a hard freeze is past, remove the mulch in stages to acclimate the sprouts. Water and apply a standard garden fertilizer according to package directions.

Garlic is easy to grow, takes very little space and is a true treat. Grow some yourself this fall to enjoy next year. Watch this space next summer for instructions on summer care and harvesting.

Quaking aspen fall color in the Black Hills. iGrow photo
Softneck garlic cloves. iGrow photo
Kentucky coffee tree and maple. iGrow photo
Sugar maple fall color. iGrow photo
Hardneck garlic cloves. iGrow photo
Nannyberry viburnum has great fall color and edible fruit. iGrow photo