Whether you are hoping for a big harvest, a beautiful landscape, or a little stress relief, knowing the when and how of gardening will help you be a success. Use these timely garden tips to eliminate some of the guesswork. For more gardening tips, check out Melinda's gardening books.
Fall is a great time for soil care. Adding organic matter like compost, aged manure, peat moss or other organic material will improve drainage in heavy soils and increase the water holding capacity of sandy and rocky soils. Dig 2 to 4 inches of organic matter into the top 8 to 12 inches of soil. Then mulch the soil surface with shredded leaves, evergreen needles or other organic material. These mulches conserve moisture (less watering for you), suppress weeds and as they break down add nutrients and organic matter to the soil.
Sweep fertilizer and grass clippings off walks, drives and patios when you finish fertilizing and mowing the gardens and lawns. This prevents them from washing into the sewers and polluting our waterways.
Gardening Tips for Flowers
Many gardeners like to save geraniums and other annuals overwinter. Take 4 to 6 inch cuttings from healthy plants. Remove any flowers and root the cuttings in moist vermiculite, perlite, or a well-drained planting mix. Once roots develop, plant the cutting in a small pot and grow in a sunny window and care for like your other houseplants. Or bring potted geraniums indoors and grow like a houseplant. Isolate the plants for several weeks, watch for insects and control pests before mixing them with your houseplants. The most difficult method is to store them in a somewhat dormant state. Most of our basements are too warm for success. Dig geraniums in fall before frost. Remove loose soil and store in a cool dark location. Replant, cut back and water the plants in March. Then wait to see if you have been successful.
Calla lilies, caladiums and tuberous begonias can be moved indoors for the winter. Grow them as houseplants in a sunny window or under artificial lights. Or dig the "bulbs" after a light frost kills the foliage, clean, cure and store in a cool dark place for winter.
Don't forget about the perennials. Many garden centers are running specials and many fellow gardeners are sharing surplus plants they have divided from their own gardens. Make sure to properly prepare the soil before planting. Work several inches of organic matter into the top 8 to 12 inches of soil for best results. Set the plant in the soil at the same level it was growing in the container. Water thoroughly and often enough to keep the top few inches of soil slightly moist. Mulch the soil to conserve moisture, reduce weeds and insulate the roots from temperature extremes. Fall leaves work great for this. Shred the leaves and spread them on the soil around the plants. As they break down they add nutrients and organic matter to the soil.
Gardening Tips for Edibles
The first fall frost often ends the garden season prematurely. Warm fall days that are great for harvesting often follow. Protect your frost sensitive vegetables from an early demise. I use row cover fabrics such as ReeMay, Harvest Guard or Grass Fast. These spun materials allow air, light and water to reach the plants, while capturing the heat which protects the plants from frost. Simply cover the plants with the fabric. Anchor the edges of the row cover with boards, stones or water filled milk jugs. Leave the fabric in place as long as frost is in the forecast. You may just surprise your family and friends with fresh garden produce long after others have emptied their gardens.
Keep cutting, using, and preserving herbs. Harvest most leafy herbs just prior to blooming when they have the greatest oil content and strongest flavor. Sage, Rosemary, Thyme, and other strongly scented herbs can be harvested almost any time. For maximum flavor and fragrance, pick herbs in the morning after the dew has dried.
Winter squash are ready to pick when the fruit is full size, the rind is firm and the place where the portion touching the ground turns cream to orange. Keep picking summer squash when it is 6 to 8 inches long. Its rind will be thin, seeds small and flavor mild.
Trees, Shrubs and Roses
Stop deadheading roses. Allow flowers to develop into attractive fruit, rose hips, which can be enjoyed over winter by you and the birds. This also improves winter hardiness by encouraging the plant to harden off for the cold weather ahead. Limit pruning to removal of dead, diseased and damaged canes. Late season pruning can encourage late season growth that can be killed by winter weather.
It is time to break out the rake – or better yet the lawn mower. Run the mower over the lawn, chopping leaves into small pieces of organic fertilizer. Leaving the leaves on the lawn improves the soil, fertilizes the grass and saves you time and effort. As long as you can see the grass blades through the shredded leaves it won't harm the grass.
Lawns and Groundcovers
Add some autumn crocus to your groundcover beds. These bulbs send up leaves in March. The leaves fade as the groundcover begins to grow in spring. The surprise comes in September when the leafless flowers appear through the groundcover. It looks like your groundcover is blooming. Plant these bulbs as soon as they are available to purchase.
Northern gardeners should finish seeding and overseeding lawns. Prepare the planting site prior to seeding. The more effort you spend now means fewer problems and less work in the future. Use a quality grass suited to your growing conditions. Spread the seed at a rate of 3 to 4 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Lightly rake the seed to insure good seed-soil contact, water, and mulch. Keep the soil surface moist until the grass begins to
Take a walk through your neighborhood or the local botanic garden. Make a note of groundcovers with fall interest and those you may want to add to your landscape. Barrenwort (Epimedium) and Bergenia leaves turn red, stonecrop (Sedum kamtschaticum) turns orange in fall and creeping Oregongrape holly (Mahonia repens) has attractive blue berries and bronze leaves.
Tips for Indoor Plants
Check houseplants for insects that may have caught a ride on plants you moved indoors for winter. Look closely along the stems and under the leaves for aphids, mites and whiteflies. Isolate infected plants to reduce the risk of these insects spreading to other plants. Apply several applications, one week apart, of insecticidal soap to control aphids and mites.
Whiteflies will need a bit more effort. These insects are difficult to control and their feeding causes yellowing, browning and stunting of houseplants. Start by purchasing or making your own sticky traps. This reduces the whitefly population and stress on your plants. Make your own trap by spreading tanglefoot or another sticky substance on a piece of yellow paper mounted on a stake or string. Hang or stick the trap in or near the infected plants. I find this keeps the damage at a level the plants can tolerate until they move back outdoors and flourish.
If the traps fail and you decide to resort to a chemical, be sure to choose wisely and read and follow all directions carefully. Use permethrin or a chemical labeled to control whiteflies on houseplants and always spray in a well-ventilated location. Those looking for an eco-friendly option may want to start with Neem insecticide. You will need to make three applications, five days apart. If you miss one application, you must start the process over.
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