Tuesday, October 9, 2012

October (mid October) Garden Talks

Hello again,

What a pleasant month October has been so far. Very fine weather interspersed with some good soaking rains has been the rule here in Skillin's Country. Rain is about to arrive for Wednesday and into Thursday the 19th and 20th but our plants will use this rain to grow stronger roots so that they can perform even better in 2012.

But first there is a variety of good gardening tasks that can be done now. The general idea is to clean up well (it is always nice to clean up well I believe!) and then even take some steps for some good natural soil conditioning. This cleaning and conditioning will save you valuable chunks of time next Spring.

And again, the weather is so nice this time of year in Skillin's Country--frankly it is often nicer weather now than in April or May when you are hurrying to get these garden chores done now. So garden well--and smile and enjoy your time outside!

We start our Garden Talks with a print of a timely post by good gardening friend Paul Parent.

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 WBQW (104.7 FM) every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 9 AM.

Paul recently sent out a post titled "October is Fall Clean Up Month and Time to Prepare Plants for Winter". He brings up many helpful points for this month. It is so helpful I am including his entire post:

"Let's start with the vegetable garden and get all the plants pulled out and the soil raked and cleaned. This will remove some of the potential problems for next year, because all insects and diseases have left insect eggs and disease spores in the garden to continue the cycle of life in your garden. By cleaning the garden now, you should have fewer problems next season. By placing this plant material in your compost pile, you should have plenty of recycled organic matter to add back to your soil in June.

Conditioning the soil will make a big difference for next year garden if you do one of the following things. If you live near the seashore, go to the beach, collect seaweed after a big storm, and cover your garden with it. Most years I will add 3 to 6 inches of seaweed over the garden and till it under in early April. Seaweed is like adding peat moss to your garden but seaweed is full of the natural fertilizers, minerals and nutrients that will improve the quality of your soil and help your plants to grow better. (If picking up seaweed is not practical for you we have some great sea based composts that will help get you to the same place--I am thinking specifically of Quoddy Blend by Coast of Maine or Little River Compost; both readily available here at Skillin's!) This is a great time to take out worn out annuals and vegetable crops from your garden and to supplement the soil!

Rake your fallen leaves and pine needles into the garden and chop them up with your lawn mower. Never put them into trash bags and dispose of them, recycle them into your garden and turn them into wonderful soil conditioners. (I have many leaves in the fall and I mow as many as I can back into the lawn. Leaves will break down steadily into an organically fed soil--and that is what my lawn has!)

 If you live far from the ocean and have no source of leaves, go to your local garden center, nursery or feed and grain store and purchase winter rye seed. Winter rye will grow a root system up to a mile long in your garden, plus provide wonderful shiny green foliage this fall. In the spring, as soon as the ground thaws, it will continue growing--reaching 18 inches by late April. Then, mow the grass down with your weed whacker, and then rototill everything together into the soil. The foliage of the winter rye and the root system is considered a green manure crop and it will help to condition your soil. This will help sandy soil hold more moisture during the summer months and it will also help to break apart clay-type soils to provide better root growth by plants.

If you live in an area where the soil is acidic, now is the time to add limestone to the gardens to help sweeten the soil. If you see moss growing in your lawn, if you have pine, maples or oaks growing in your yard, or if your plants never seem to have real green foliage and lack vigor, it's time to add limestone to the garden soil. If you have a wood stove or fireplace and you burn wood products, save the ash and spread it over your garden when you clean it for the same results. NEVER burn pressure-treated lumber inside your home and NEVER use that wood ash either in your vegetable garden because of the wood preservatives in it. Apply limestone at the rate of 50 pounds per 500 sq. ft. of garden and wood ash at one 5-gallon bucket per 500 sq. ft. of garden.

Either of the products should be added to annual, perennial and rose gardens to help them grow and flower better. If you have flowering shrubs and trees that are not productive but mature, the acidic soil could be preventing the plant from flowering. Clematis vines and lilacs love lime and should be treated every year in the fall. Even rhododendrons, azaleas and hollies can grow better with an application every 3 to 4 years where acidic soil is common. If you're feeding them and they still won't flower in your yard, try applying lime or wood ash around them now. The only exceptions are blueberry plants and if you want to keep your blue hydrangea blue--keep these products away from them or the blueberries will have fewer berries and your blue hydrangea will turn pink.

In the perennial garden, cut back to the ground all perennials that turn yellow and brown and remove the foliage to the compost pile or Compost Tumbler. Rake the garden clean, apply lime products, and fertilize the garden at half the recommended rate with organic Flower Tone plant food. If you have the time, add one inch of compost or bark mulch on the garden to help protect the roots of the plant during the winter months, it will be one thing less to do in the springtime. If you have open areas in the perennial garden, how about planting some spring flowering bulbs for early color in your garden?

In the rose garden, all you have to do in rake it clean and pull all the weeds growing there. Removing the leaves with black spots on them from around the plant helps to prevent fungus problems next year because you are remove dormant disease spores from the old leaves that will infect next year's new foliage. You can also lime the garden but do not apply fertilizer EVER after September 1, or you could promote new growth with the nice days we will receive in the next few weeks. You want your plants to begin to harden off or become tough for the winter and go dormant, that way the branches become woody and are better able to fight off the damaging winds of winter.

In addition, DO NOT prune your rose plants at this time of the year; ALWAYS prune in the spring, NEVER in the fall. Open cuts on the stem will allow moisture to escape during the winter months and the rose stems will dry up and die. If your roses are finished flowering, it's also time to build a mound of soil or bark mulch around the base of the plant to protect the graft of the plant for the winter. Make your mound 12 to 15 inches high and just as wide and, believe me, your plants will survive the winter much better if you live in a cold climate. Around Thanksgiving, spray all exposed branches with Wilt- Pruf or Wilt Stop to help the plant retain moisture in the stems in windy areas.

If you have fruit trees or flowering crabapples trees, be sure to rake all the fallen foliage from around them to remove potential disease spores left on the foliage for next year. When all the foliage is off the trees, spray them with All Season oil and liquid Copper spray to kill overwintering insect eggs and disease spores; repeat in late March or early April. These two sprays will make a big difference in the quality of your plants for next season.

If these trees are new and young, be sure to stake them down for the winter months with a staking kit available at your local Garden Center. This will prevent damage to the roots caused by winter winds and heavy snow bending the tree over and breaking. Also, if you live near a wooded area or an area with much tall grass, be sure to wrap the trunk of the trees with hardware cloth wire to prevent mouse, rabbit and porcupine damage over the winter. Push the wire collar into the ground a couple of inches and have the wire reach the first branches.

If you have new strawberries in your garden, you will not believe the difference with the plants for next year if you spread an inch or two of garden STRAW, not hay over your plants for the winter. Great protection for the plants, it will encourage new runners to develop faster and fruit will form faster and grow larger. For blueberries use 2 inches of straw, pine needles or bark mulch for root protection and feed them at half rate with Holly Tone  evergreen fertilizer. Because these plants love acid soil, add aluminum sulfate plant food to acidify the soil to help make them more productive next year. Aluminum sulfate is also used to keep or intensify the blue color on your hydrangeas, and a fall application will make those flowers deep blue for next summer.

If you have raspberries or blackberries in your garden, be sure to remove the canes or branches that made fruit this year, as they will not fruit next year, just make foliage. By removing the old canes, you will encourage much new growth for next year that will be productive. Also, add 2 inches of straw, pine needles or bark mulch to protect the roots and help keep out weeds. Before you mulch though get some compost or cow manure down around the raspberries.

Rhubarb should be cleaned of all old foliage. Add a couple inches of compost or composted manure around the plant, that's all. Asparagus should be all cut down to the ground when the foliage turns yellow to brown. If the fern-like foliage has small BB-shaped fruit on it, be sure to pull them off and spread them on the ground to start new plants next spring. Asparagus loves to be fertilized in the fall with cow or chicken manure fertilizer--use 50 lbs. of composted cow manure for every 10 feet of row or 10 lbs. of dehydrated manure. If you're using chicken manure and it's fresh. Use 25 lbs. per 10 feet of row or 5 lbs. of dehydrated.

Hydrangeas need special care also and here is what to do this fall. The white-flowering varieties should be cleaned of all their flowers as soon as they turn brown. If the flowers stay on the plant during the winter and you get an ice storm or heavy wet snow, the flower will hold the Ice and snow, causing the branch to break with the weight. I have seen many beautiful plants, especially the tree form, destroyed this way. White varieties can be pruned in the spring or fall to control size and to create a tree shape of the plant. Fertilize in the spring, not the fall. New hybrids are best pruned in the early spring before the new growth has developed and again in June to remove dead branches from the plant. Cutting back existing branches in half will help develop stronger stems with many side shoots off of them.

The blue or pinks should also be cleaned of flowers for the same reason but only remove the flower on both types, never cut back the plant during the fall. Prune only in the spring to prevent winter dieback when the winters have little to no snow cover. Keep limestone away from the plant or it will turn pink due to acidity levels in the soil. New varieties do not need winter protection, but I always spray my plants with Wilt-Pruf around Thanksgiving just in case we have a cold winter and little snow cover to protect them. If you have new plants, build a mound of bark mulch around the base of the plant 12 inches high by 12 inches wide for the first year to help give them extra time to get established in your garden.

If you have any containerized plants such as roses, needle evergreens or perennials, be sure to move them under cover for winter. An unheated garage, tool shed, or under a tall deck will do well and help prevent the container from filling with ice and killing the roots during the winter. If this is not possible, place the containers up against a solid structure like your house or garage for protection from the wind and weather. Always avoid placement where water runs off the roof and never cover the plant with plastic bags--burlap bags will work well as long as the top is open to the air and a bit of sunlight in. Spray evergreens with Wilt Pruf around Thanksgiving for added protection. Have fun!!!"  Thanks Paul!

*Ripening green tomatoes: This is the time of the year that the cooler weather we have received have shriveled our tomato plants but we still have many green tomatoes on the vine. Jim Crockett of Crockett’s Victory Garden wrote: “for some reason, the common wisdom about green tomatoes is that they ripen if left on a sunny windowsill and that wisdom is absolutely wrong. Green tomatoes shrivel and become pink and bitter tasting in the sun. They ripen best in darkness in a spot that gets no warmer than 45 or 50 degrees. I put my tomatoes in an old picnic cooler and set them in the garage. The ripening process is given a boost if a ripe apple is stored with the tomatoes. These ripened tomatoes don’t have the quite the flavor of the vine-ripened fruit but they’re better than any available in the stores and they ripen so slowly that they will last through Thanksgiving. Be sure that all tomatoes to be stored are free of blemishes. Any cuts or cracks in the skin will allow decay to set in and ruin the fruit. It is a good precaution also to wash and dry the tomatoes before storage.”

*Forcing bulbs: There is no quicker way to bring spring indoors during the winter than with a pot of bulbs. Many different bulbs can be forced, including tulips, hardy narcissus, hyacinths, squill, and crocuses. These are all hardy bulbs that need a 15-week prerooting period before they can be brought into active growth. That period of enforced cold convinces them that winter is at hand; when they’re brought to a warm spot, they assume that spring has arrived and they bloom.

To begin the process usually several bulbs are potted together in a 6-inch bulb pan. Hyacinths, which are large-flowered, look handsome planted as singles in regular 4-inch flowerpots. Add a dusting of garden fertilizer to the soil so the bulbs will have additional nutrients. When they’re planted in the pots, the tips of the bulbs should peek just above the soil line, which should itself be about ½ inch below the rim of the pot. Then moisten the soil and the bulbs are ready for winter.

There are several different ways to store winter bulbs; the purpose is simply to keep the bulbs at 40 degrees or so. Also they can’t be allowed to dry out or freeze. A bulkhead, cool cellar, or refrigerator is fine. Also a cold frame or a bulb trench dug outdoors can be used. After 15 weeks, the first of the bulbs can be brought indoors. Plan on bringing in just a pot or two at a time to give you a sequence of flowering plants through most of the late winter and early spring. Put the pots on a bright but cool windowsill until the shoots are about 4” tall. Then move them into bright sunlight until the flower buds start to show color, at which point move them back into bright indirect light. While bulb plants are growing and in flower, they do best with night temperatures in the low 40s at night and the 60s in the day. Keep the soil moist but don’t feed them. Then enjoy an early taste of spring.

When the bulb plant’s leaves begin to turn yellow, reduce the amount of water and give them only enough to keep the leaves from wilting. By the time the leaves have withered entirely, the soil should be dry. The bulbs can be stored in their pots until the fall, or they can be taken from their pots and stored in a cool dry place. Most bulb plants can’t be forced a second time. But if you have an outdoor garden, you can save the bulbs and plant them outside in the fall. They may not blossom extensively the next spring, but they will regain their strength and eventually produce fine outdoor spring flowers. "

*Amaryllis plants that have been growing outside all summer should be allowed to dry out (this is their dormancy period) then placed in dark space until their growth starts.

*For early Spring blooms, plant some Eranthis (winter aconite). The yellow buttercup type flowers are gorgeous and will often blossom 2 weeks before crocus!

*I keep my lawn high during the growing season. Now is the time to mow the lawn short and keep it short until it stops growing. Two inches of grass going into the winter is plenty (more than that can facilitate snow mold)

(Thanks to Organic Gardening Tips for the tips about amaryllis, eranthis, and mowing the lawn short).

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
October 9, 2012

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