Unearthed from the potting bench

Tips and updates I couldn't fit in anywhere else

September is a transitional month – a good time to clean out your potting bench and sort through those random hand tools, containers, decorations and hose connectors you meant to do something with but couldn’t figure out how or where. Here are a few from the Trowel & Error potting bench:

Yard waste protocol

First of all, here are a few reminders as you’re cleaning up from summer and fall (we do forget stuff from season to season). Within Fort Wayne city limits, grass clippings can be bagged in plastic bags or placed loose in your garbage cart, although I would say leave them and let them fertilize your lawn.

However, do not place leaves in the garbage. Either rake them to the curb or put them in yard waste bags for collection, which will probably happen twice during the October-December months. Or, again, you can make use of at least some of them as fertilizer.

Branches and sticks can can be bagged or bundled. However, they can be no longer than 3 feet and no more than 3 inches thick.

Anything that’s not pick-uppable (yes, I just made up that term) can be taken to the Fort Wayne Biosolids facility on Lake Avenue near Maplecrest Road; some fees apply. Through Nov. 30, it’s open 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Sat., noon-6 p.m. Sun.

African violet adventures

A while back, I wrote about African violets. I’d just received a beautiful one as a gift and, despite a poor track record with African violets, was determined to make it thrive.

It did. The plant happily grew and bloomed for two years … until it began to look a bit large for the reservoir wick watering pot it was in and some lower leaves drooped. That’s when I began seeking advice from African violet experts and fellow Master Gardeners and wound up choosing a new, slightly larger wick watering pot.

When I went to repot, I was shocked to discover essentially two plants. The smaller one seemed to have grown as a sucker off the original. I carefully divided them, repotted the original plant in the larger pot and repotted the sucker in the old pot. I was also dismayed to find the soil sopping wet from the wick constantly being in water. So I took the pots off their reservoirs and went back to watering weekly with an African Violet fertilizer solution. (Watering the soil is OK if you take care not to get the leaves wet.)

Then came the waiting. The worrying. The photos emailed, the questions asked. When the repotted African violets realized the trauma they had just undergone, they looked so droopy and distressed I feared losing them. In the meantime, there were potential baby African violets to consider. In the course of repotting the plants, as instructed, I’d removed and potted up some outer leaves.

It took the two repotted African violets a few weeks to perk up, and then the original plant began to bloom again. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. More photos, more emails. The spinoff (which sounds a little nicer than sucker, doesn’t it?) took longer to rebound, but bloomed after nearly a year.

As is always the case with cuttings, some will root, and others will not. The rooting hormone did not appear to make much difference here. After about four months, a little leaf pushed up through the soil at the base of one of the potted leaves. I had a new plant. The other surviving cuttings (one of which was rooted in water, the other four in potting medium) soon followed suit.

So even if you don’t think you’re any good with African violets, if you love them, you just might surprise yourself.

Further along the weedy path

When I wrote about earth-friendly weed control last October, I reported that plain household vinegar didn’t seem as effective as the store-bought organic product I also tried. This year I decided to try horticultural vinegar, which is 20 percent acidity (household vinegar is about 8 percent, or less).

The increased acidity also means you have to be much more careful with it – safety glasses and gloves are a must. It can be hard on the eyes and lungs, especially if you have allergies or sensitivities, and don’t even think about using it in any kind of breeze.

Though it was definitely more effective, I went through a gallon very quickly. For the same price you’d pay for a gallon of horticultural vinegar, you could get a concentrate of the prepared organic solution and cover much more ground, literally and figuratively.

First appeared in the September 2016 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.

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