If you haven't gotten into the autumn spirit yet, landscapes in the city and beyond the Capital Beltway are ready to change. As matters stand, it will be another two weeks before the color spectacle peaks in communities inside the Beltway. But in the normally cooler valleys north and west of Washington, the first leaves are starting to show their colors of yellow, orange and red. The panorama will be at its peak in the next two weeks.
Closer to home, your salvage efforts in the bedding garden over the past three weeks will start paying off this weekend. It's time to resurrect the just-potted bedding plants from the basement and get them growing upstairs in warmer temperatures and the brightest light possible.
First, don't expect miracles right away. Your plants will do quite well over the next seven months or so, but progress will be slow. Flowers ultimately will develop on such plants as geranium, impatiens and ageratum, but probably not for the next four to six weeks while they adjust to their new environment. There is also the matter of shorter days, longer nights and the declining intensity of sunlight. In spite of these limitations, however, foliage plants will perform very well.
Here is how to manage these transplanted bedding plants:
Light. Give them your best southern window exposure, even direct sunlight if possible. If you haven't considered rearranging the room for the fall, this could be the reason you're looking for. Raise shades and part the curtains on sunny days so plants bask in sunlight; place tall plants away from the window and locate small plants nearer the light. Rotate plants a half-turn every other week.
Watering. Keeping these plants going will test your endurance. Forget all the rules about when to water; they won't apply because these plants are potted in "garden soil," not the perfect 1-1-1 standard mixture you've used recently for indoor plants. In pots, garden soil dries out almost overnight. Because of this, you'll have to water these plants almost every day, using warm water and watering in the sink so water drains fully before your return the plants to their saucers or trays. Don't allow water to stand in the saucer.
Feeding. Fertilize every two weeks, with your first feeding coming this weekend or in the next few days. Use Peters' 15-30-15 at the full label rate, mixing in a plastic gallon container. Keep a record of when you fertilize so you'll know when to feed again. Remember that plant nutrients will wash out of the soil quickly as a result of your watering the soil practically every day.
Grooming. No harm will come from fingernail pruning to remove discolored foliage. These plants tend to become leggy between now and mid-January, so prune them as needed.
Cautions. Don't put fresh bananas in the same room because the ethylene gas released by the fruit will have a negative impact on the bedding plants. Shut down any heat register within six feet of the plants. If you open windows on mild days, keep the one nearest your plants closed.
Other indoor plant activities accent this weekend.
Fuchsia. Don't throw the plant away; with a little care, fuchsia will flower again next year. Start by pinching off remnants of flowers, then forcing the fuchsia to go dormant for the winter. Simply move the plant to a cool, dark corner of the basement (with temperatures in the 40-55 degree range), placing the pot on the floor.
The extent of your fall and winter work is to water the soil fully every three weeks up to next March. Move the pot to the sink, water fully so water exits the drainage holes, then return the plant to the basement floor. Consider tacking a sheet of paper in the basement to remind yourself of the watering dates; if you forget, the plant will die.
Hibiscus. You should have kept the plant next to a south-facing window since it came indoors. Full sun is the best environment now. Don't fertilize, but keep the soil lightly moist by watering every six or seven days. Thanks to traces of fertilizer in the soil from late summer feedings, the hibiscus will continue to flower indoors for two or three weeks. When it's done, pinch away the funnel-shaped blossoms. About a month from now, you'll force the plant to go dormant for the winter.
Cyclamen. You were to have resurrected your dormant cyclamen from the basement in early August, then coddled the plant with biweekly feedings, indirect light and lightly moist soil. Now the care program changes dramatically. You want to choose quarters for the plant through late March. Look for full, direct sun if you have the south-facing window, otherwise pick place with the brightest possible indirect light. Pick a spot where the winter room temperature usually hovers in the mid-60s.
At night, you must move the plant to the coolest location possible (40-50 degrees); for October, move the plant to an enclosed garage, perhaps a few inches above the floor. By Halloween, locate them well above the floor to eliminate chances of freezing.
Before Thanksgiving, use the cool basement each night instead of the garage. If you don't "chill" the plant each night, the delicate flowers won't bloom. Feed with Peters' 15-30-15 every other week until March 1, then discontinue feeding. Allow the soil to dry for one day before adding warm water. Let the pot drain fully before returning it to the saucer; standing water in the saucer will rot the tuber. If you buy a cyclamen (multiple colors) from the garden shop, it will flower for two years.
Weeping fig. Indoors, water the container every two weeks. The best method is to move a plastic dishpan next to the plant, set a small piece of wood in the pan on which the container is placed, then water the soil thoroughly. With the soil bone dry, plan on adding almost a gallon of water to wet the soil; remember that much water will cascade down the sides of the pot, and it will take a continuing flow to moisten the entire root ball. Leave the container there for 15 minutes, then return it to its former location. Feed once this month with 15-30-15, but give it no food from November to March 1. If any leaves have dropped in the past few weeks, move the fig to brighter indirect light.
Gardenia. Plants should be in full sunlight in a southern window; otherwise, growth will be poor. Warm day and night room temperatures (65-75 degrees) are needed for good growth, at the same time keeping the soil lightly moist and feeding every other week with Peters' 17-6-6 acid greening special.
When you want flowers, simply move the gardenia to quarters each night where the temperature stays between 60 and 62 degrees. The next morning, move the plant back into full sunlight. Continue this daily until the first buds start to develop; stop feeding, but continue moving the plant to the cool quarters for three or four days, then leave the gardenia in the sunny window day and night.
Blossoms last for two weeks, then you should prune them with your fingernails. More flowers will follow. When the cycle has ended and no more buds form, return to the biweekly feedings for a month or two. After that resume nightly chilling to develop new buds.
Jack Eden hosts "Over the Garden Fence" Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on WTOP Radio (1500 AM).