Now is the perfect time to do gardening

Duane Campbell

The growing season has two different kinds of days. There are the days when you go out early to do your gardening before it gets too hot and the days when you wait until later in the morning after it warms up. Right now I am drinking coffee and waiting.

I love this part of the season. The hard work of spring and early summer is done. The major weeding of mid and late summer is … OK, not done, but ignored now. The heavy lifting that comes after the first frost is still down the road. It is a time to do things I want to do, not things I have to do. Or maybe things I should have done earlier but didn't.

One thing I have been putting off is dividing and repotting a clivia that blew its pot apart a month ago. Nice pot, too, but clivia roots are powerful, more powerful than the clay trying to hold them, and the roots won. It's been sitting out there for a month, half its rootball exposed, waiting for me to work up the nerve.

That delay is no problem. Clivia is almost impossible to kill. In fact it is the perfect house plant for the inept. A true low light plant, it requires no care from September to March, not even watering. It has huge orange blooms reliably in the middle of winter. In summer put it outside in full shade and let the rain take care of it. And it gets bigger and better every year. What more could you ask of a plant?

The one chore is occasionally dividing and repotting it, and that is a chore indeed. By the time you get around to it, or the pot breaks, it will be filled with a solid tangle of linguine sized roots atop several fans of leathery leaves. It is a full afternoon's endeavor. But don't worry. You still won't kill it.

If you do it in a timely manner, it gets even harder. You've got to get the thing out of the pot, and it won't want to come. Slipping a long knife down the side and cutting around the edge sometimes helps. But to be honest, when the pot hasn't broken on its own I have sometimes resorted to a hammer.

This is also a good time to collect seeds and take cuttings. Many of my favorite annuals are self seeding, some promiscuously so, but I collect seeds anyway. With some, like Cyprus vine and castor bean, it allows me to start them indoors and so get bigger plants and flowers sooner than if I let them do their own thing. And then I also have seeds for less fortunate friends who don't have them sprouting in every square inch of their garden.

A fun job right now is clipping pieces off my ornamental sweet potatoes. Normally I do not go with that glass of water over the kitchen sink to root plants, but sweet potatoes are an exception. They will be happy in that jar all winter. I have several varieties this year that look very nice together in a decorative jar, and they will last most of the winter as a bouquet. If they get dowdy in January or February, I'll just take new cuttings off the cuttings and start over.

I am also taking cuttings of other plants now and rooting them more carefully. Some of my pot plants are sold as annuals, often at a premium, but are actually perennials someplace in the world. Often, though, plants that have grown lush in the warmth and sun outside don't much like our living rooms. A cutting can root and grow on accustomed to indoors, unaware of what it is missing, and go out next spring. Sometimes I bring the mother plant indoors but take a cutting just for insurance. And some plants, like an eight foot dusky hibiscus that started out in a four inch pot in June, are just too big to handle. Often I make multiple cuttings so I can have multiple plants next season.

All easy jobs at a great time of the year. Soon enough the frost will come and the spading and hacking begin.

Duane Campbell is a nationally known agricultural expert. He can be reached at R6, Box 6029, Towanda, PA 18848 or e-mail at

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