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What a difference a wet July makes! The Madison area’s rainfall is less than an inch under average from March 1 thru July 31. And the average monthly temperatures have been running a bit higher. Weather factors can make gardening in our area mighty interesting. But the Autumnal Equinox is just 30 days away and the first frost is usually a few weeks later. It’s time to think about preparing for the cooler weather to come.

Let’s talk about a few things that we’ve seen and experienced this year. Lots of photos and samples of fungal infection have been brought to the Plant Information Desk. You can’t do much beyond arresting the development, but make a note to thoroughly clean up foliage and fruit this fall. And while there is rain forecast for late this week, please soak any plants that are susceptible to drought damage like Redbuds, Beeches and Clethra.

The average first frost in the Madison area occurs in in early October, but we didn’t experience a 31 degree night until October 15th last fall, with a hard freeze just a few days later. Even so, it isn’t a bad idea to formulate your plan for moving houseplants and other tropical plants that have spent the summer outside, indoors for the winter. You don’t want to get caught off guard when temperatures do drop below 45 degrees. That was September 22nd last year. Now is definitely a good time to apply some late season insect control so that any plants moved inside are pest free. Problems that are merely annoying out of doors quickly become epidemics in the confined conditions inside your home.

Some houseplants though, like Christmas Cactus and Cymbidium orchids, need to be chilled to help develop the flower buds. These plants can be left outside until night temperatures dip below 40 degrees.

Don’t forget that there is much less light inside your house than you think, and you may notice some leaf drop or discoloration as plants acclimate to new light levels. Lessen this problem by placing the plants close to the sunniest windows that you have. You can gradually move low light plants to less sunny locations. You’ll also want to adjust your watering schedule. Plants will need less water as the days shorten and temperatures cool. Cut back on fertilizing as well.

Try tissue propagating some of your favorite Coleus, Fuchsias and Geraniums to over-winter indoors. Take a 4 to 6 inch cutting from the tip of a healthy stem. Remove any flowers and the lowest set of leaves. Dip the cut end in some rooting hormone and place the cutting in a clean container filled with moist vermiculite or soil-less potting mix. Place in a bright location out of the direct sun and keep the rooting mix moist. Once the cuttings have rooted, move them to a sunny window and treat them as houseplants. The rooting process usually takes about two to three weeks.

Powdery mildew always peaks as the temperature drops. We’ve identified plenty of cases on Ninebarks, Peonies and Lilac. Cleaning up now can reduce re-infection next summer, so be sure to remove and discard all infected plant material as you prepare your garden for winter.  And remember to water the soil, not the plants. This is even more important in the fall when the cooler temperatures can exacerbate mildew on wet foliage.

As you clean collect your yard tools this fall, unearth your frost protection like row covers, sheets and big utility pots. Keep them handy in case a light frost is predicted. We like to go by the old saying ‘If you don’t have frost by the full moon in September, you won’t have frost until the full moon in October.’ So make like a Good Scout and Be Prepared!

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