Ask the grasp gardener: Carry flowers into the home earlier than the primary frost

Answer: yes. Let’s start with Coleus, which is probably the easiest. You can either take cuttings and plant new plants, or you can get your entire container indoors before the first frost. To take cuttings and plant new plants, cut off some stems, leaving a few leaves on top and placing them in jars of water or damp vermiculite to start rooting. Once you see roots, place the stems in 4-inch pots with potting soil and keep the soil moist but don’t douse it. Put the pots in a sunny window. When you want to get your container in, gently hose down spray your plants, including the undersides of the leaves, to remove any insects. I also put a systemic insecticide in the bottom of all of my containers that I bring home for the winter. If you have multiple Coleus plants in one large container, you can divide the plants into individual containers for convenience. Put the plants in a sunny spot. Be aware that they can become leggy and lose color, but this is normal when they are resting. In March, you can start watering with half strength fertilizer. You’ll need to pinch new growth to get a bushier plant. It can return to your garden when there is no longer any danger of frost.

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For begonias, it depends on what type of begonia you have. Tuberous begonias need to be stored indoors in a cool place like calla lilies, cannas, dahlias, and gladioli during winter. After the first light frost, dig them up, spread the tubers on newspaper and let them dry for about a week. Then cut off any remaining leaves and gently shake off any excess soil. Lightly dust all bulbs and tubers with powdered sulfur to avoid diseases during the winter. Store them in paper bags or a cardboard box in a cool, dark, and dry place.

Rhizomatous begonias are easiest to grow indoors as a houseplant. To find out if you have a rhizomatous begonia, look for a rhizome (looks like a thick trunk) that is right around the surface of the soil. Place your plant in a place where it can get bright light but not direct sunlight, and keep it slightly moist and fertilized. Tube begonias, such as angel wings and the dragon wing species, can also be kept as house plants. They need the same requirements as rhizome. Rex begonias are a bit trickier as a houseplant because they need high humidity. They like constant moderate humidity, high humidity, regular fertilization, and bright (but not direct) light.

Impatiens can also be brought indoors for the winter. Like Coleus, you can take stem cuttings and after rooting, place them in containers in a sunny spot. If you’re bringing in containers of impatiens or digging them out of the ground and placing them in containers, push them back about halfway (or a little more) just above a side stem or bud. Put them in a bright place out of direct sunlight.

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Dear master gardener: I want to plant azaleas this autumn to give my landscape spring color next year. Which ones do you recommend for this area?

Answer: University of Minnesota plant breeders developed the world famous Northern Lights range of azaleas. The first hybrids were made in 1957 and after two decades of bringing the beautiful, tropical-looking flowers of the azalea to northern gardeners, the first introduction, Northern Lights, was published in 1978. Since then, 16 more have been released. Lights azaleas are deciduous and have an incredible flower bud hardness. Mandarin Lights has bright orange flowers, Lilac Lights is purple-pink, Orchid Lights (a dwarf variety) is lavender, Rosy Lights is deep pink, Golden Lights is golden yellow, Northern Lights is pink and very fragrant, White Lights is very floriferous and slightly fragrant, Spicy Lights is salmon-colored and slightly fragrant. The two newest azaleas, Electric Lights Double Pink and Electric Lights Red, are hardy against Zone 4.

Orchid lights azalea.  Contributed / Jennifer Knutson

Orchid lights azalea. Contributed / Jennifer Knutson

Roseshell Azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum) also does well here. Hailing from southern Quebec and the eastern United States, she is one of the parents of the Northern Lights hybrids. It has very fragrant white to pink flowers. Another option that has a flower bud hardness of 35-40 degrees below zero is Pinkshell Azalea (Rhododendron vaseyi). It is an excellent choice for a woodland garden and has lightly scented pink flowers.

When it comes to growing azaleas, 90% success depends on soil preparation. A soil test is strongly recommended as the optimal pH value for azaleas is 4.0 – 5.5 acidic. Don’t plant them too deep (no deeper than the pot) and add plenty of organic matter. I planted my Orchid Lights azaleas all over peat. Azaleas have shallow root systems and dry out quickly, so consistent moisture is a must. They are also sensitive to extreme heat, so avoid planting them on the south side of your home. Fertilize them with an acidic fertilizer every spring before the buds appear. Azaleas have beautiful, luscious spring blooms and are a fabulous addition to your landscape!

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: It’s easy to save seeds for next year to use

  • If we don’t get a few inches of slow, soaked rain, even the older trees are desperate for a deep drink. Stressed maples are already turning color, birch and apple tree leaves are curling and apple trees are dropping apples.

  • Under normal weather conditions, now is a good time to start a new lawn or re-seed a thin lawn. Consider a drought tolerant fine fescue mix. This is a tough year with high temperatures and water restrictions. When the temperatures are moderate, the nights are getting a little cooler, and you can keep the seedlings moist, sow your lawn. When planting grass seeds, don’t spray herbicide.

  • A fertilized lawn becomes thicker and healthier, with fewer weeds. Fertilize when the grass is actively growing and the weather is no longer hot and dry (hopefully forever).

  • Dig, grow, or spray dandelion plants and other perennial broadleaf weeds in the lawn so they are no longer visible next spring.

  • Insects are rarely a serious problem for trees or shrubs this late in the season, even if they are numerous. If you see large clusters of webworms on the ends of branches, don’t be alarmed. There is no need to spray them with insecticides or prune them. Feeding them won’t harm the trees, but if they bother you, break the nets open with an old broom to remove them.

  • Keep weeding so that weed seeds stop sprouting for the next year.

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: Planting Proper Plants for Monarch Butterflies

You can get your gardening questions answered by calling the new Master Gardener Help Line at 218-824-1068 and leaving a message. A master gardener will call you. Or send me an email at [email protected] and I will answer you in the column if space permits.
University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners are trained and certified volunteers for the University of Minnesota Extension. The information in this column is based on university research.

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