Sally Mullins

These autumn days are perfect for working in the garden.

Just because it’s not hot, don’t be fooled into staying out longer than you should. We’re no longer working toward a pristine winter garden and there’s lots of time to do what’s needed.

Decorate your porch with some pumpkins and colorful gourds. If you have no time to carve a pumpkin, just use a black marker. And don’t forget pumpkin pies. Halloween pumpkins have entirely too much water for good pies, so ask Spring Valley market about pumpkins specially for pies and pumpkin butter.

The marigolds are dying and we are gathering many seeds for next year. They are one of the few plants the deer do not eat.

We planted a lot of milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) seeds and expect a large number of plants growing in the power line next year right along with the moonflowers. Larry’s been snipping off the moonflower (Ipomoea alba) seedpods for months so we will again have a lot of seeds.

Moonflowers have damp seeds that mold and become useless quickly and it’s important to be sure they’re completely dry before storing them in a container. This is true for all seeds you store.

Boston ferns (Nephrolepis exaltata “Bostoniensis”) are plants that look gorgeous hanging on the shady front porch and nearly every year someone asks how to keep it alive for next year. Because the weather is so unpredictable these days, I would suggest bringing them indoors in the next week or 2.

Although they can survive temperatures down to 46 degrees, a sudden drop at night may damage the foliage or even kill the plant. Normally with vacationing houseplants, you can check for pests and move them in for cold nights and out when the days are warm, well into fall. But ferns have a lot of lush foliage where pests can hide, so it’s best to just do a thorough check for them and then bring the plants in for winter.

Boston ferns are evergreen in their warm native home where they grow year round and never have a natural dormancy. So if you have a cool area where it will receive indirect sun, a Boston fern will overwinter beautifully in your home.

Continue watering as you normally do, keeping the soil lightly moist, but never wet, fertilize once a month with half strength fertilizer and mist regularly. If the fronds tum brown, trim them and check the soil because it may be dry or possibly they just need more humidity.

Try moving the plant to a more humid part of your house, such as a bathroom or laundry room. If the plant dries out completely, it will most likely die if you don’t remedy it quickly and that’s not an easy task. The roots are a thick mass, making it difficult for water to penetrate deep into the dry soil.

Adding to the problem is the fact ferns are potted in soil containing a high percentage of peat, which is quite hard to rehydrate when it becomes dry. If you’ve ever had a hanging plant dry up completely, you know what I’m saying, and ferns are 10 times harder to rehydrate.

That being said, if you don’t have a good place to overwinter your Boston fern in the house, don’t despair; you can force dormancy.

Some experts say to immediately prune your fern down to the soil when you bring it indoors, but I have always preferred to do no trimming at an until spring. Either way works well, so it’s your choice.

Bear in mind, it’s going into a dormant state and will die back a bit on its own.

Place the pot in a cool dark area and water once a month. Normally when a plant (think amaryllis) goes dormant, you stop all watering, but that doesn’t work for ferns. Watering dormant ferns is essential if you want it to return, so set up a reminder to water so it’s never allowed it to complete\y dry out (see above).

Before warm weather arrives, cut it back to soil level, being careful not to damage any new growth, gradually bring it back to indirect light, begin fertilizing (always half strength) and be patient. It could take a while for your fern to revive, but it will be worth the wait.

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