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Fall Horticultural Hints

September Garden Tips

by Betty Sanders
Lifetime Master Gardener

Summer vacation is ending for your houseplants. While it is still very warm outside, houseplants need to begin the transition back into your home. Any that have spent the summer outdoors should be brought onto a porch or deck where they receive less daylight, a step to help them acclimate to the lower light level in your home. Plants that have been in contact with the ground should be repotted to ensure worms, ants or pests are not tagging along. Check for any obvious signs of insects on the leaves, stems and top of the soil. A strong spritz from the garden hose followed by spray of insecticidal soap can help to keep aphids mites and others from causing a big problem indoors.

Laura Eisener gives her presentation on shade gardening
If your houseplants spent the summer out of doors, now is the time to start their autumn reentry
Once you make the move indoors, don't despair if your plants drop a few leaves. The drier air and lower light levels mean the plant cannot support all the foliage it did outdoors. Many plants will replace the leaves after they have readapted.

It's a great time to take cuttings from some tender favorites such as begonia, coleus and geranium. Cut a 4-inch tip of the plant, remove the largest leaves, dip in rooting hormone and place in wet sand or a perlite/peat moss mixture. Keep this growing medium wet until a gentle tug proves that roots are in place. Then, transplant to a small pot and you have a new houseplant. In a southern window you may even get blooms.

Finally, start thinking about the Amateur Horticulture competition at the 2011 Flower Show.
Last year's schedule is still available (click here). Even March looks bright with a shiny ribbon on your plant!

Planting for fall/winter
It's been a long hot summer and the last thing some of us are thinking is planting at this time of year. But it might be a good idea to reconsider. We can see where our garden needs a boost. It is easy to plan a spring and summer garden; harder to think ahead to where we need color or structure for the fall and winter months. Nurseries are full of plants that can offer exactly that, and they're likely on sale.

I am not a fan of chrysanthemums for fall. The colors are too brassy, the plants too short lived. I leave annuals in place until they are killed by frosts (usually the same time that the mums would be killed) and supplement them with perennials that will provide color throughout the winter. Heuchera are wonderful plants that show off their colorful leaves year round (when not buried under snow). Those not watered may have suffered this summer, but cutting back dead leaves will lead to fresh replacements. In shady areas, plant epimediums, which keep their greenery throughout the winter and add flowers to the shade in the spring.

And don't forget trees and shrubs. It is not too late to plant as long as you water consistently until the ground freezes in December. Trees add not just height but also interesting bark and structure after the leaves are gone. Evergreens add priceless greens, blues and yellows to the winter landscape. Shrubs provide offer color, bark, berries and shelter for the birds.

Don't rake!
Take a look at the forest floor: it is covered with leaves. They provide the only nutrients that the native trees get. They are the mulch that protects the roots and new seedlings. Traditionally, we rake to remove leaves that would otherwise smother our lawn over the winter. But with a mulching mower you eliminate one time consuming chore. Always mow your lawn using a mulching blade on your mower. This returns finely cut grass clippings to the lawn. In the autumn, the same blade will chop leaves into small pieces. These pieces will not mat. Instead, they'll break down over the winter, returning the nutrients to the soil in the process. In October, if the leaves are particularly thick, you may have to go over an area twice, but this is still substantially less work than raking.

In flower beds and under trees and shrubs, leaves can remain for the winter to help protect the roots and crowns of your plants. Cleaning them out is a spring chore.

Mushrooms in the lawn? After a horribly dry summer, we had 4 days of rain in late August and await a hurricane this week. The result may be the sudden appearance of mushrooms of all sorts in your lawn. If the sight of mushrooms sends you looking for a cure… stop. Those mushrooms are a sign of organic material decomposing under your lawn, which is a good thing. While I strongly advise against eating them unless you are an experienced mycologist, enjoy their unusual shapes and colors. And, if they bother you, just kick them over.

October Garden Tips

by Betty Sanders
Lifetime Master Gardener

Finish harvesting your herbs and vegetables. It’s been a good year for most gardens if you had supplemental water. Green tomatoes can ripen indoors on windowsills if frost threatens. Root vegetables such as carrots and potatoes store well in cool humid locations. Harvest winter squash with one inch of stem attached. Clean, then dip in a 10% bleach solution. Dry before putting away for the winter. Herbs can be dried or frozen for storage.

Clean-up Your Beds. Don’t let this year’s diseases and insects carry over to next year in the fallen leaves and plant debris in your vegetable and ornamental beds. Remove all the debris, bag it, and trash it. Never compost plant material that may be diseased. Healthy leaves can be left in place now, or a better solution is to rake them off beds, chip them up by creating a pile and running through it repeatedly with your mulching mower and return them to the beds. They will return the nutrients to the soil over the winter. Alternately, you can spread a layer of compost over the garden beds and compost your leaves.

Dig and divide overgrown summer bloomers. Siberian iris with dead centers will benefit from the division. On bearded iris, look for any pinholes in the tubers. These indicate iris borers and mean a quick trip to the garbage. Healthy plants can be divided and replanted , providing more for your garden or gifts for friends.

The heavy recent rains make this a great time to fertilize the lawn, if you have not fertilized this year. The moist soil will allow good root growth. If you haven’t had a soil test this year, it’s not too late to send a sample to UMass. Follow this link to download a soil test form. An application of lime (as recommended by the soil test) can sweeten acidic soil making a better lawn or garden. But don’t put the lime down until two weeks after the fertilizer is applied.

It’s time to get your tender bulbs out of the ground. Whether they are tubers (dahlias), bulbs (caladiums), rhizomes (cannas) or corms (gladiolus), they need to be gently lifted, then allowed to dry out of the sun. Carefully remove most of the dirt and check for insect or disease damage. Store healthy ones in paper bags in a cool dry place.

This is the month to plant spring bulbs
This is the month to plant spring bulbs
After the first frost, start planting bulbs. Remember large bulbs need to be 8 to 12 inches deep, small bulbs six inches. Add some chicken grit (available at farm stores) or crushed, sharp-edged gravel around the bulb to deter moles. A douse of red pepper on the bulb and lime on top of the soil will deter squirrels.

Take advantage of sales at local nurseries to buy shrubs and trees. Remember to loosen root balls on the material you buy, and plant in saucers not teacups: holes wider than deep to allow roots to quickly spread. Water frequently until the ground freezes because the roots will keep growing after the leaves have dropped.

November Garden Tips

by Betty Sanders
Lifetime Master Gardener

Clean up, clean up, clean up! While it is still pleasant to work outside, remove this year’s plant debris from garden beds. Taking away dead stalks and leaves will remove many possible sources of disease if you had problems this year. Many pests lay their eggs in the leaves (such as iris borers) and stalks (like corn borers) of their hosts. Sending the debris to the trash or a burn pile means fewer insects next year.

Leaves in beds can stay put for the winter — after you’ve cleaned out the dead perennials and any weeds trying to winter over. If you have the time, rake them out onto the lawn, chip them with your mower or chipper and return them to the beds. By spring, they will have become compost. Even un-chipped leaves will help protect the plants from winter freezes and thaws. This is particularly important for anything planted this year and vital for those planted this fall.

Use your lawn mower to mulch leaves back into the lawn
Use your lawn mower to mulch leaves back into the lawn.
Keep mowing the lawn. By now your mower blade should have been lowered to approximately two inches. If you have not fertilized, a light application of fertilizer that is not high in nitrogen (the first number on the front of a fertilizer bag) but also contains phosphorus and potassium (the second and third numbers) is appropriate now. You are encouraging the grass to concentrate on growing roots.

Don’t be afraid to continue mowing leaves into the lawn no matter how deep those leaves are; they will compost into the soil over the winter. Oak leaves are more acidic than pine needles so a week or two after you fertilize, put down lime over your lawn if many of the leaves are from oaks.

This is a good time to move shrubs. After the leaves have dropped is a good time to relocate old shrubs to new homes, (or to add new shrubs).
tree bowl planting
Proper planting of trees or shrubs
When moving an old shrub, create its new hole first (a saucer not a teacup). Start digging outside the dripline of the plant. Work all the way around it before trying to lift it out. Do NOT lift a tree or shrub by the stem or branches! Instead, pry it up onto a shovel or tarp. Replant it at as close to the same depth it was growing at before as possible, add mulch (careful not to touch the truck of the plant) and water well until the ground freezes solidly.

If autumn rains are not plentiful, water trees and shrubs until the ground is frozen. They are still creating new roots after leaves have dropped. Evergreens in particular need to have as much water available as possible since they will continue to lose moisture through their leaves throughout the winter.

Plant bulbs. Daffodils, hyacinths and alliums are unattractive to deer and rodents. They may eat a few to figure this out, but the bulk of your planting should survive. Don’t forget to start bulbs for forcing, they are always welcome gifts in the dark days of winter.

Save your ashes. If you have wood fires, ashes should be saved to place around plants that prefer sweet (not acidic) soil. Always leave the ashes in the fireplace or outside on the ground, not the deck or porch, in a metal bucket until they are cold. Do not use the ash from manmade fireplace logs or from a charcoal grill.

Not all garden crops die with the first frost.
Your vegetable garden may still have lettuce or arugula, leeks, swiss chard, turnips, carrots or brussel sprouts growing. Enjoy fresh produce along with fruits and vegetables you have stored, frozen, canned or dried at your Thanksgiving dinner while you give thanks for a fruitful year.

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Mass Hort logo newFounded in 1829, the Massachusetts Horticultural Society is dedicated to encouraging the science and practice of horticulture and developing the public's enjoyment, appreciation, and understanding of plants and the environment.

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