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posted: 3/26/2014 1:01 AM

Start coleus cuttings now for May planting

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By Tim Johnson
Chicago Botanic Garden

If you have kept a coleus as a houseplant over the winter, you still have time to start cuttings for transplanting to the garden when the weather is warm enough.

Use a sharp, clean knife or a pair of pruners to cut about 6 inches from the end of a stem just below the place where a leaf is attached. Remove the lowest leaves. Dip the cut end into a rooting hormone and insert it into fresh, sterile potting soil in a small pot.

Coleus cuttings also will readily root if they are placed in a glass of water. Once a small mass of roots has developed, transplant the cuttings into pots with growing medium. Place the pots in a window or under lights and water as needed.

The plants will be ready to use in the garden by the middle of May when the danger of frost is past. Gradually acclimate the coleus plants to the outside environment by leaving them outdoors for increasing amounts of time each day over a week or so. Be sure to avoid direct sun at first so the leaves do not burn.

It is best to wait to work your garden's soil until it dries out from spring rains and snow melt. The structure of the soil can be damaged if you dig or walk on it and pack it down while it is too wet.

Once the soil is dry enough to work, dig in compost or other organic matter to enrich the soil as needed.

Check garden beds to be sure plants have not heaved out of the ground due to the freeze-thaw-freeze cycles that are typical in early spring. Gently press the crowns of perennials back into the ground, but do not stomp heavily around the plants, as this can compact the soil. A layer of mulch will help prevent additional frost heaving.

If you find carpenter ants in your home during winter, late winter or early spring, it suggests the ants have a nest in the building.

Black carpenter ants can vary in size from 1/4 to 1/2 inch in length. They do not eat wood, but they will create tunnels in it, leaving telltale sawdust behind. They are attracted to wood that has been softened by moisture, so their presence can indicate a leak. You will likely need to work with a professional exterminator to eliminate an indoor infestation.

Carpenter ants also will also nest in rotting trees, stumps and boards left on the ground outdoors.

• Tim Johnson is director of horticulture at Chicago Botanic Garden, chicagobotanic.org.

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