The first norther of the season brought slightly cooler weather and spotty showers. I even wore one of my sweaters for a whole day, but now I’m back in shorts. It seems to have muted the intense heat of summer making it tempting to be back out in the garden.
With cold fronts starting to march through cooling things off, start winterizing your garden. It’s time to clean pot plants that need to be moved inside. Containers should be checked for pests and disease – reducing problems when plants are housed together.
Orchids enjoy the day/night temperature differences of fall with an amazing display of blooms but once temperatures dip below 50 degrees; it’s time to move them to a protected area.
Traditionally, Arbor Day occurs in January. The optimum time to plant trees in South Texas is fall with its milder temperatures – September is usually our wettest month. Planting a tree in the fall allows the tree to establish a strong root system before summer heat.
Consider diversity when making a choice on what type of tree to plant. Diversity makes for a healthier urban forest in the event of disease or insects. While oak wilt hasn’t arrived in Bee County, it is something we must be aware of. Planting different types of trees lessens the damage to your landscape if one type of tree takes a hit.
Consider planting trees that produce fall color. The leaves are plant factories where the green pigment (chlorophyll) is used in photosynthesis to make sugars – food for the tree. During spring and summer, days are long and both chlorophyll levels and photosynthesis rates are high. During autumn and winter, the days get shorter and the tree starts to slow down photosynthesis. Some of the abundant chlorophyll begins to break down in preparation for the winter. As the green pigment breaks down, naturally occurring yellow and orange pigments start to appear. They are always present only covered up by the abundance of green chlorophyll. Reds and purples are more pronounced when you have a sudden change in temperatures from cold fronts. These brilliant colors are caused by glucose (sugar) that are trapped in the leaves of some tree varieties such as maples that thrive in more northern climates – these sugars are converted into red and purple pigments. Browns are caused by wastes left in the leaves. Crepe myrtles and Chinese tallows are two examples of trees that put on a colorful fall display in our area.
Cooler weather has animals on the move and increases your chance of having a close encounter with one of those little black “kitties” with the white stripe. In case you or your pet isn’t fortunate enough to avoid getting sprayed, be prepared by keeping the ingredients on hand for the “antidote.” The recipe is as follows: 1 qt. of 3% hydrogen peroxide; ¼ c. baking soda; 1 tsp. liquid soap; 1 malodorous pet or husband. Mix peroxide, soda and soap then sponge on your exiled pet or husband. Work into a lather then rinse with tap water. The smell will instantly vanish. The antidote cannot be stored.
Happy days, after much research, I discovered the name of my mystery Hoya. The intriguing plant comes from Malaysia and is named after one of the collectors who discovered it. Hoya finlaysonii is grown for its spectacular leaves which are thick and hard. The large light green leaves have dark green veins making a striking pattern.
The plant grows as an epiphyte in the tropical rain forest of Southeast Asia. Epiphytes grow in trees drawing nutrients from the air, rain water, forest debris that collects around the roots and from decomposing bark of host trees. The plant likes well-draining soil and warm, humid conditions. I planted my H. finlaysonii in sphagnum peat moss in a wooden orchid box to mimic how it grows in nature. While the Hoya likes consistent watering, it doesn’t like wet feet or heavy soil.
Hoya finlaysonii is a succulent vine with highly fragrant white flowers with burgundy accents that appear in clusters. After they fade, don’t trim off the peduncles (bloom stalk) – the stalk will produce new flowers. Removing the old peduncle makes the plant put its energy into producing a new bloom stalk, reducing the number of blooms it will produce. Hoyas flower better if slightly root bound.
Hoyas make great container plants and hanging baskets that thrive in partial shade. They should be moved into the greenhouse if temperatures drop below 50 degrees.
To propagate H. finlaysonii, take cuttings of top growth or leaf cuttings. Cuttings will produce a blooming plant in two years or less. Wait until June (growing season in the tropics) to take healthy herbaceous tip cuttings from the mother plant. Include at least three leafy nodes, remove leaves from lower node – allow cutting to rest and scab over to form callous. Dip in rooting hormone powder and plant in a mix of 50/50 peat and perlite for a simple, effective rooting soil mix. Keep soil moist but not wet until established – the cutting needs humidity. Keep the cutting in shade and don’t disturb until well established.
Like all members of the Hoya family, H. finlaysonii has trouble with mealy bugs. To remove the pests from the plant, blast with water if infestation isn’t severe. If the problem is more severe use alcohol and cotton swabs to kill evil little insects. Once they are removed spray with horticultural oil or neem.
Cold exposure can cause younger leaves to discolor and fall off. Over watering will cause root rot – old leaves turn yellow, and the plant will look dull and slow growing.
Fall is the perfect time to plant seed for spring wildflowers. Make sure you choose a sunny, well drained area that you don’t mind being less manicured. Clear the area of competing weeds. If you use contact herbicide, be sure to wait two weeks before spreading seed. Cut grass close to the ground and use a rake to lightly scratch the native soil before planting seed – deep tilling will only bring up competing weed seed.
Water the seed thoroughly. Once they begin to germinate, keep them moist. If there is no rain, lightly water newly sprouted plants every few days for three weeks. To insure next year’s bloom, allow plants to go to seed.
Whether you plant a tree or spread wildflower seed, you will be rewarded with the beauty of a colorful garden.