Phyllis Both color for BNR

Phyllis Both

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” — L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

It’s hard to imagine with the weather we are experiencing this first week of October that freezing weather is right around the corner. Frost is most assuredly on its way. After the frost has darkened or browned the bulbs of dahlias, begonia, calla lilies, cannas and gladiolas they need to be dug and stored so they can be planted next year. Dig the tubers from the ground along with stems and some soil and put them in a warm, dry spot for a week or two. By that time, they will have dried out enough to separate easily.

After allowing them to dry in a shady, well-ventilated area such as the garage or tool shed, remove the excess soil and pack them in peat moss, vermiculite or perlite, making sure the bulbs do not touch each other. Separating them will help prevent the spread of decay if there is any present. Dusting the bulbs with a fungicide before storing them will also help prevent rot. Caladium should be stored between 50 degrees and 60 degrees Fahrenheit; the rest should be stored at about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Tubers, rhizomes and bulbs will last for years given this attention and produce larger flowers as they gain strength.

A light pruning of both needle and broadleaf evergreens is recommended in late fall to encourage a strong framework to help overcome winter damage. Simply remove weak or crowded branches with a pair of clean, sharp pruners.

A good garden cleanup is recommended to prevent overwintering of viruses. Tomato mosaic virus overwinters in the roots of weeds such as horse nettle, Jimson weed, nightshade and bittersweet; cucumber mosaic virus overwinters in the roots of milkweed, catnip and pokeweed. Bean mosaic virus overwinters in white clover roots and many cabbage diseases spread from wild members of the cole family such as horseradish, stock rapseed, common radish and mustard. A good fall cleanup should start now.

Long nights and cool temperatures will trigger your Christmas cactus to bloom. If it was outdoors during the summer, just bring it in and buds will start to form, but if you kept it indoors during the summer months, you should place the cactus in an area that is about 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit in early November and keep it on the dry side. You should get blooms around Christmas. Some Christmas cactus are not really Christmas cactus; they are Thanksgiving cactus. You can tell the difference by their leaves. Thanksgiving cactus has spiky bracts and Christmas cactus has smooth bracts on the foliage.

Among fall-blooming plants is a lovely plant called turtlehead (chelone). It is not as popular as mums or asters, but it is beautiful with very dark green foliage and pink, white or red blooms. Most species are larval hosts to some species of checker spot butterflies. The flowers are snapdragon-like. Turtlehead prefers moist, sunny locations, but it will grow in some shade. If you pinch this plant early in the year, it will produce a compact, bushy plant, especially in shady locations. Turtlehead can be propagated by seed, but the seeds need to just be scattered over the soil in fall and they will germinate after a winter chill. You should only divide this plant in the spring.

Contact Phyllis Both by email at or by telephone on Monday mornings at the Sauk County UW-Extension office, 608-355-3253.