Ron Kujawski | Garden Journal: V-a-c-a-t-i-o-n for your houseplants

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With summer arriving on Wednesday, June 21, I'm sure many folks are already thinking of summer vacation. Everyone loves a vacation, even your houseplants. Huh? Oh, yeah, plants suffer from the same winter blahs as we non-chlorophyll-laden type of critters do. The best way for them to overcome their lethargic growth is spend the summer outdoors, where they'll thrive in the increased light and humidity. Now that night temperatures have moderated, this is a good time to move houseplants outside for the summer. However, there are some precautions that need to be taken to ensure a safe trip.

Just as it takes our bodies a while to adjust to the increased light intensity and heat of summer, the same is true for plants that have been housebound for nine months. As such, the plants should gradually be introduced to the outdoors so that they may acclimate to the change in environment. The best way to do this is to bring the plants out to a shady spot, such as beneath a tree, for a few hours the first day and gradually increase the time. After about a week, they should have adapted to their summer vacation site, which must remain shady since most houseplants will sunburn easily in direct sun. Even with shade, they'll be getting more light than they did indoors.

It won't be a carefree vacation. Before their trip outside, the plants should be checked for cramped roots and be repotted if needed. While Mother Nature will provide much of the care vacationing houseplants require, they'll appreciate some pampering. Routine watering and fertilizing with a water-soluble fertilizer once a month will keep them happy. As an alternative to water-soluble fertilizer, a single application of a slow-release fertilizer will suffice.

On every vacation, there is always a risk of encountering some unwanted intruders. Therefore, regular inspection of plants for visiting pests should be part of the routine. Many pests, e.g. aphids, tend to hang out on the undersides of leaves; always check there for the little beasts. If pest infestations occur, apply insecticidal soap, neem oil or other eco-friendly pesticide. Always read and follow label directions of the product used. As a preventative, weekly washing or spraying of plant foliage with warm water may deter pests.

Just as most of us benefit from some vacation time in the great outdoors, our houseplants do also. Show them a little love.

     

IN YOUR SPEAR TIME ...

Here are some lovable tasks for this week:

- Break up crusty soils in the vegetable garden. Heavy rains followed by hot weather have created a firm crust of soil, which interferes with water and oxygen penetration. A hoe or multi-tined soil cultivator are my preferences for this task.

- Weed onions regularly. Onions have very shallow root systems and will starve if they have to compete with weeds for water and nutrients. Starving onions won't form very large bulbs.

- Save the ribs from an old patio umbrella or tent. They'll make a great teepee for growing pole beans.

- Back problems? To reduce the amount of spine-irritating bending when sowing seeds in the garden, use a section of PVC pipe to assist in the planting. Make sure that the length of the tube will allow you to drop seeds of beans, corn, cucumbers, etc., down the tube into the prepared furrow without having to bend.

- Keep an eye out for the following pests in the vegetable garden: Colorado potato beetles on peppers, tomatoes, eggplant and potatoes; striped cucumber beetle on squash and cucumbers; squash vine borer on summer squash; and Fred, the pilfering neighbor, on anything ready for harvest.

- Take cuttings from deciduous shrubs now. Known as softwood cuttings, this method of propagating shrubs involves cutting off a 6-inch piece of new shoot tip. To know if shoot tips are mature enough for rooting, bend one. If it flexes but does not snap, it is too immature. If it snaps off, the tips are ready for cutting. Dip cuttings in a rooting hormone (available at garden centers), stick them in a pot of moistened soilless mix, and place a plastic bag over the pot. Rooting may take a month or two.

- Pay attention to the watering needs of recently planted trees, shrubs, herbaceous ornamentals, and vegetable transplants. Since these plants have not fully re-established their roots systems, they are more sensitive to heat and drought conditions than well-established plants.

- Dads love tools. For Father's Day, give him a steel soil knife, one of the handiest tools for avid gardeners. I use it to dig out weeds, make planting holes, saw roots, cut twine, plant bulbs and many other uses.


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