Saturday, October 2, 2010

Gardening Tips for October

Good gardening friend Paul Parent of the Paul Parent Garden Club ( sends out a great newsletter every week with pertinent gardening topics. I encourage you to go to his website to sign up for his newsletter. Paul can also be heard every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 10 AM at his website or at WBACH (104.7 FM) every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 9 AM. Paul recently sent this article out called "Gardening Tips for October"  (I occasionally add a few comments in italics) and here it is:

"It is time to put on your favorite gardening blue jeans, work shirt and head back out to the garden after the long hot summer. Fall gardening is more relaxing than springtime in your garden, because you are not in a rush to get everything done for a deadline. After all, if the work is not all done you can do it in the spring of next year, so let us get going.

Grab your wheelbarrow and fill it with pruners, loppers, a shovel, a rake, a cup of coffee, your portable radio and then you're ready to clean the garden and put it to bed for the season. Fall is the best time to start a compost pile because of all the garden waste you acquired during the growing season. All the fertilizer and animal manure you applied to the garden this year has made wonderful plant material to be composted. Apply to the garden in the spring as rich compost to help those new plants grow better. It is now time for fall garden cleaning and winter preparation.

Start in the perennial garden, cut back most all of your perennial flowers to the ground and rake the garden clean. Cleaning the garden now removes any diseased foliage that will contain spores to cause disease problem again next spring or foliage damaged by insects, as it may also contain insect eggs for next year. This cleaning helps to eliminate potential problems for next year before they get a chance to start. Your garden will be clean so you can get started sooner.

When cleaning, if you come across any weeds that have many seeds on them toss them out with the trash, do not put them in the compost pile. A good example is crabgrass, as each plant can contain up to 500 seeds that most compost piles do not kill and those seeds will germinate in your garden next year in the new compost you made. This sorting of plants will help you weed less next spring and summer. (any technique that reduces weeding later is a great idea!)

As soon as the annual flowers die back, remove them also and clean the garden of all plant material. This is a great time to add compost, animal manure, limestone, and garden gypsum. If you live near the seashore, collect fresh seaweed and blend it into the soil to help condition the soil for next year. If you have the time, edge the flowerbed now and it will be one less job to do next spring.

Plant some early spring-flowering bulbs when the flowerbeds are cleaned in the fall, as these will help to motivate you to get back in the garden next year when those spring flowers arrive. Always plant flower bulbs in groups, so you can plant your annuals on time in the spring by planting around them. Never plant bulbs in rows or the wind will knock them over like dominoes and it will be difficult to plant around them.

If you have blue hydrangeas or a rose garden in your yard, remove all the faded flowers from the plant to prevent heavy wet snow from collecting on them and breaking branches. Clean around the plant all faded foliage and tie up branches to resemble a "Hershey's Kiss."

When the ground freezes, build a mound 12 inches high and 12 inches wide around the base of the plant with soil or bark mulch, as this will help protect the plant during the winter cold. Pine needles, straw or salt marsh hay can also be used for winter protection of the plant, but you must wait until the ground freezes or mice will build a home in this soft material and eat the bark from the stems of the plant, killing it. If you live north and west of Cape Cod use Wilt -Pruf or Wilt Stop on the branches to prevent winter wind damage. Always remember: "NEVER" prune these plants in the fall, only in the spring as the new growth begins.

Label all non-hardy bulbs now, before the frost arrives, with a string tag that will identify them for later. You want plant name, color and height that the plant grew to, so you can store them with identification on them for next year. Always use a permanent marker or pencil but never ink--it will fade. I always store such bulbs as dahlias, begonias, cannas, callas and caladium in banana boxes from the produce department at the local supermarket. Ask them to save them for you, as they are thick and strong.

Store the bulbs in your basement on the floor where they will not freeze--never in an unheated garage or tool shed or they will freeze and die. I always shake a bit of rose and flower garden dust on them to help keep possible insect or disease off them during the winter and cover the boxes with a couple sheets of newspaper, never plastic, to keep moisture in the bulbs. Glads can be stored in a old pair of nylons in the legs and hung from the rafters in the basement; also use garden dust on these to prevent possible insect damage.

You may want to wash birdbaths or fountains and put them away for the winter, as they will fill with water, freeze and break. Clay or ceramic planters should also be cleaned of dead plants at this time and moved inside for winter protection. Soil does not have to be removed from containers as this soil can be used again next spring if conditioned with compost or animal manure.

I always bring in garden statuary, garden signs, and patio decorations to keep them safe from ice and snow. If you are not going to use your sprinkler or garden hose, it is time to drain them of water, coil them up and tie them together so if you want to wash the car during the winter, the hose will not be frozen and filled with ice.

When the vegetable garden is cleaned this fall, it is a great idea to plant winter rye in it. Winter rye will grow until the ground freezes and again during the early spring when the frost comes out of the ground. The roots can grow one mile long on each plant during this time and when the garden is tilled in the spring, these roots become a great source of organic matter. Growing this winter grass is like growing your own peat moss to help condition the soil in your garden. In April, cut the grass down first and then till the grass and roots into the soil. Winter rye seed is available at your local garden center or nursery; five pounds will cover about 200 to 300 square feet of garden. (We sell winter rye right here at Skillin's!)

If you are going to decorate your house with pumpkins this fall, be sure to rub a bit of Vicks on them to keep the chipmunks and squirrels from eating them. Indian corn is loved by blue jays and they will clean the colorful kernels of corn of the cob quickly if you do not spray them with shellac or hair spray to help make the kernels stick together.

If you're decorating with bales of hay, be sure not to use it as a mulch on your gardens as hay is native grasses and weeds cut from the farmers field--and those weed seeds will quickly cover your garden. Use old hay to prevent erosion on slopes, or spread it where nothing has ever grown before and watch the weeds fill in those impossible areas. If you are decorating with bittersweet, be sure to toss the decoration in the trash when finished or the seeds will germinate where you dispose of them and become a major weed problem for you. When you decorate with corn stalks, save them and cut them up to use to protect your roses in the shape of a teepee around the plants or chop them smaller and toss them into the compost pile.

Fall is a great gardening season ,so take advantage of the cool temperatures and clean your gardens, fertilize the lawn to help make it strong for the arrival of winter, put the patio furniture away and start the snow blower-- you may need it sooner than you think. Be prepared this year.

One last thing...rake a big pile of leaves for the kids to play in just like your dad did for you. This year jump in it with the kids or by yourself, look at the sky and smell the fragrance of fall and your dad will be right there with you in the pile of leaves again. Enjoy!"

Paul Parent can be found at the Paul Parent Garden Club!

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