Cutting into fall

A Sense of Herbs

A Sense of Herbs

September 23, 2002|by Dorry Baird Norris

These mornings it's dark when I go to the mailbox to collect the paper and cool - blessedly cool. The weather has done a welcome flip-flop. The garden and I are alive again. Fall is here.

September is the winding down season in the garden, but one that gives enormous pleasure. Fall blooming roses may be sparse, yet are more brilliant than the abundance of June. Here and there a startling red bee balm blossom appears among the rubble of summer stalks. Calendulas, though short, are flowering again.

It's easy to be led astray by all this late season bounty and forget that now is the time to ready the garden for coming indoors.

The rooted cuttings of scented geraniums - that I scattered around the garden in the spring - are now huge plants, much too large to be dug and moved to a new environment. I have already cut big bunches of these fragrant beauties and put them into pots of water. Some will root.


But to make sure I really have plants for next year, I will take a few six-inch cuttings from the tip of the stems, dip them into rooting compound and lay aside for half and hour. Then I'll poke a hole into some sterile potting soil, tuck the stem in the hole and snug the dirt around the stem and water lightly.

My favorite rooting boxes are those plastic trays, with lots of holes, that fruit comes in. In a month I'll tug gently and if the cutting stays firm, it can grow for another couple of weeks before being potted up in good loose soil and set in a sunny window.

One of the scented geraniums that I'm most anxious to carry over to next season is "Atomic Snowflake." It has a rich lemon-rose scent and the light green, shallow lobed leaves are tipped with yellow. This is a good one!

All the potted plants that have spent the summer outside need to have their pots scrubbed down with soap and water then the foliage hosed off with a powerful spray of water to dislodge any lurking bugs.

After the leaves have dried, I like to spray the plant carefully with an environmentally safe insecticidal soap mixture. The plants spend a couple of days in the shade followed by a week in the garage before they settle into our south facing bay window for the winter.

The orange tree (currently nursing three oranges), the 19-year-old bay tree from Caprilands in Connecticut and the dwarf pomegranate in full fruit seem to thrive on this treatment. And it is well worth the effort. It is always a heavenly surprise to walk down the stairs on a January morning and be greeted by the incredibly sweet fragrance of orange blossoms.

My collection of amaryllis (fifteen and counting) have developed lush leaves and plump bulbs on their summer vacation outside, their pots sunk in the ground. Now it's time to put them to bed. The leaves will be cut down to within an inch of the top of the bulb and the whole plant will then spend the next eight to 10 weeks without water in the dark, cool basement. When I haul the plants out and begin watering in mid-December I will also re-pot. Before long those glorious lily-like blooms will be cheering the winter days.

In spite of an early summer pruning the tansy, comfrey and fine leafed mountain mint need taming again. Next year all three will be fitted with an 18-inch tall wire corset to keep them from flopping all over the place. This will protect the plants growing around them and give me a chance to dig out any of their roots that get to ambitious as space grabbers.

Last but not least, I'll mark spots in the garden for the perennial herbs from the window boxes where they can stretch out a bit. Transplanting can wait till we have some good rain.

Herbarist, lecturer and Hagerstown resident Dorry Baird Norris welcomes questions about the non-medical use of herbs at

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