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Thinking ahead: 2014 tasks to succeed in 2015

In spring, gardeners always imagine how good their landscapes, gardens and planters can look, especially when the seed catalogs and magazines present images of glowing successes.

About this time of year, we come face-to-face with the reality. Sometimes we have achieved just the look we want, or have found plants that have succeeded in our climate and soil conditions, but other times not so much. Now is the time to evaluate, make notes, plan plant lists for next year and note how we reached good and bad results, then figure out how to make the changes. Once the snow flies, our garden brains soon forget.

One inexpensive way to carry over some of the successful results is by gathering seed from open-pollinated (non-hybrid) annuals as they reach maturity. Store them properly in a cool, dry, dark place, make notes and put them on next year's planting calendar. You can do the same thing with seeds of perennials. Some need to go into an outdoor starting bed so they can go through the normal freeze-thaw cycles that many perennial seeds need for successful germination. Other perennial seeds can be gathered and stored for early planting under lights in late winter or early spring. Getting a good book on seed starting of annuals and perennials can help you with your planning and methods. "From Seed to Bloom" by Eileen Powell, a Storey publication, has been my mainstay for years.

Another way to carry over your successful plants is by taking cuttings of annuals or houseplants that you have grown as bedding plants or container plants. Taking in the whole plant results in mixed success because of a number of reasons. Plants are often too large for our indoor spaces, get leggy in the decreased light in our homes and drop many leaves. Digging them from the outdoor bed destroys roots they need, brings in soil insects and organisms not helpful in indoor gardening, and also can bring in insects on leaves and stems that are hard to control. Container-grown plants that have been watered and pushed with fertilizer all summer will have planters filled with roots and soil depleted of organic matter and nutrients, not keys to beautiful plants.

You can achieve greater success and satisfaction by taking slips to root that can be planted into attractive containers to enhance your home for the winter. You can rinse these cuttings to remove insects much more easily too. The trick with taking cuttings is to do it now before the nights get cool and daylight hours shorten. A four to six inch cutting with bottom leaves removed, dipped in rooting hormone and placed in a loose, damp vermiculite/peat mix and placed under a plastic tent with some air vents will root in a few weeks. Pot when the roots are one-half inch long in an organic potting mix and place in the brightest window possible or under lights, tipping to create bushy plant. Just after Christmas, give these cuttings a dose of liquid fertilizer to stimulate weak growth in winter's poor light; the plant will produce many spindly new shoots that will easily root, producing new plants to help you reproduce your 2014 successes.

Geraniums, coleus, tradescantia are good candidates that are getting the snip to root for next year. What are you going to try?

Refer to the University Of Minnesota Extension Service website: for more information on horticultural topics.

Local Master Gardeners will again answer your questions on home horticulture. Call (218) 444-7916, leave your name, number, and question and you will receive a return call.