Before the Frost

Early Morning Field

It’s coming. Probably soon.

We’re well-past our average first frost date up here, which means it can’t be too far off. A few nights in the low-40’s this week brought a reminder that it doesn’t have to freeze to damage some plants – the basil is covered in dark spots, and the coleus’ colors are fading. Being originally from warmer climes, they are strenuously opposed to being out in the cold.

Favorite coleus this year

 I love to plant coleus every year. They’re a constant dose of color, in the borders and in pots, that contrasts well with the ever-changing palette of perennials that surround them. And, as I discovered this year, the voles don’t eat them. (I have never seen any critter that would eat the prickly stems of annual verbena before, but they chewed it down to a nub… the petunias,too!)

Coleus come in all kinds of colors, leaf-sizes, and growth habits.  I had thought to start a bunch from seed this year, but was disappointed by the selection available. All the really cool ones are ‘to the trade’ – only sold to nurseries. Scratch that idea.

So, as usual, I bought them from my local garden centers. Two of them turned out to be real winners. Sadly, I didn’t keep the tags with the variety names on them, so I have no idea what they are, and can’t go looking for them again next year.

No problem. Coleus cuttings are VERY easy to root.

Cuttings on the work table

The first step, obviously, is to take some cuttings. Or, pick up the broken branches that the dog knocked off, they’ll work too. You don’t need many – I did two of each plant that I wanted to keep. There’s almost no chance of failure with these, as long as you remember to water them.

Damp soil and leftover pots

Use a lightweight potting soil or a seed-starting mix to fill the pots. Be sure to wet the soil before filling the pots – it’s the only way to be sure it’s moist all the way through. I’ve got tons of leftover nursery pots to recycle, but old yogurt containers or butter tubs work just as well. Don’t forget to poke a drainage hole in the bottom, or the plants will rot!

sizing it up...

Next, strip off all but the very top sets of leaves. If it has a flower on the end, clip that off, too. It’s important that any leaves that would be below the soil level come off, as they would simply rot in the damp earth.

Poke a hole in the dirt in your prepared pot. It’s tempting to just use the stem, but not a good idea – no matter how sturdy it seems. Use a pencil, a chopstick, your finger…or a so-dull-they’re-useless pair of scissors that happen to be lying around in the basement. Who’d do that, I wonder?

Under the Lights

Insert the stem into the hole, and tamp the soil around it. The whole stem needs to be in-contact with the dirt for the fastest results. Put them in a place where they won’t freeze, and will get a few hours of sun every day. The plant lights in the basement are on a timer that gives them about 4 hours direct, plus whatever makes it in though the windows.

So, here they’ll spend the winter, beside the fuchsias and the lemon verbena. As they grow, they’ll be bumped-up to larger pots. When spring is near, I’ll take cuttings from them to root and set-out as bedding plants.

As long as I don’t forget to water them…


2 thoughts on “Before the Frost

  1. Leaves are falling here but not much color. I sure miss the old elm and all of it’s yellow glory this time of the year. Thursday morning was 38 degrees but not for long!! Days are in the 80’s. Was that James’ hand in one of the pictures?

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