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Take apart plantings with care

| Friday, Oct. 26, 2012, 8:50 p.m.
This planted terra cotta pot full of plants easily overwintered indoors via cuttings. Credit: Jessica Walliser

As the gardening season comes to an end, it is time to deconstruct your container plantings. If you can't bear to part with favorite container-grown annuals, take some cuttings to cultivate indoors.

Sweet potato vines, lantana, verbena, geraniums, silver falls and many other specialty annuals are traditionally propagated by cuttings, so starting some of your own is easy. Dip the base of a 2-inch-long stem section into rooting hormone (available at most local garden centers), then settle it into a clean pot of fresh potting soil. Cover the container with a plastic baggie and water when needed. In a few weeks, when the cutting has rooted, remove the bag and treat as a houseplant until the spring thaw (you'll need to pinch the plant once or twice through the winter to help control size).

But what to do with all the used potting soil pulled out from the disassembled containers? Largely devoid of nutrients, this soil should not be reused for next year's containers, but here are three simple ways you can give it a new life.

1. Save used potting soil in plastic garbage bags. Come spring, you'll have it to pot up perennial divisions to share with friends.

2. Add used potting soil to potato-growing bins by layering it with chopped leaves, compost, shredded newspaper, and aged horse manure next spring. Plant seed potatoes in the bins and continue adding layers as the plants grow. Harvest at season's end by opening up the bin and collecting the potatoes.

3. Mix 6 gallons of used potting soil with 4 gallons of screened compost. Add ¼ cup rock phosphate, ¼ cup greensand, and 18 cup bone meal and blend well. Now you've got new, nutrient-rich potting soil to use however you wish.

And once your terracotta and plastic pots have been completely emptied, scrub them with a diluted bleach solution and a stiff brush (a good-quality toilet brush works great) on the inside and out. Allow the pots to dry thoroughly then stack them upside down in a garage, shed or other protected site. Before you know it, a new gardening season will arrive and you'll be pulling them out of the shed once again.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Grow Organic” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is www.jessicawalliser.com.

Send your gardening or landscaping questions to tribliving@tribweb.com or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212

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