Arrivederci

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We’re heading to Italy today for vacation. In the meantime, enjoy the beautiful autumn, especially the early signs such as this red maple leaf just splashed with color. Get out and enjoy our local natural areas, and think about next year’s garden.

When I get back, I hope to have lots of photos of Mediterranean plants.

Foliar flags

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This picture, taken last fall along the PSE&G right of way that cuts through Hamilton Avenue in Glen Rock, shows what ecologists call a foliar flag. This vine–you know that it’s poison ivy, right?–turns brilliant red in early fall just when its berries ripen. And it doesn’t do it for our aesthetic enjoyment. It does it to advertise to the birds that its berries are ripe–that’s the flag. When the vine’s leaves are green it’s hard to see the plant among the tree leaves, so the vine has to do something special so the birds will eat its berries and scatter its seeds.

Here’s another picture of poison ivy doing its autumn thing taken a few days ago in the Thielke Arboretum.

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Poison ivy does not hurt the trees it climbs, and it has especially nutritious berries that are devoured by many, many species of birds. Also, despite its scary name, many people are not allergic to it. Of course we need to remove it from places where children play, but we also need to remember that it plays an important ecological role and leave it along in natural areas. It is native and does not become invasive.

Another native vine that turns gorgeous fall colors is Virginia creeper (Pathenocissus quiniquefolia). Like poison ivy, it has nutritious berries that birds seek out and that ripen in early fall, so it too produces a foliar flag. also like poison ivy, it does not harm the trees or structures it climbs. If you have an ugly brick wall you would like to cover, consider this lovely plant.

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Both these vines are very common in our area. They’re easy to tell apart: Virginia creeper has leaves made up of 5 leaflets. Poison ivy has three shiny leaves that are reddish in early spring, bright green in summer, and orange or red in fall.

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Gorgeous, aren’t they?

 

9/27/13: In the garden this week

Just one of the reasons why it's called red maple

OK–I’m cheating. This photo was taken in the Thielke Arboretum here in Glen Rock, not in my garden. My site is much too dry for most ferns and for red maple.

The lovely cool weather continues, and rainfall amounts have been normal over the past month and year. I heard on NPR today that the season has been absolutely perfect for apples and that New York State will have its best apple harvest ever. So put apple picking and pie baking on your list of things to do this fall.

I am going on vacation soon, so this will be my last weekly update for a while. Here’s a list of tasks you might consider over the next few weeks:

– keep the grass long (3″ or more) to reduce mowing times. Mow with a mulching mower and leave the clippings on the lawn, where they will serve as natural fertilizer. There is no need to water unless you are also reseeding. Remember that the lawn will be in active growth as long as the temperature is above about 40 degress F.

– fall is the time to renew your lawn. If you fertilize your lawn (although this is not something I recommend), this is a good time to do it, using a slow-release organic product. If patches need reseeding, buy seed, sow it, and keep the newly sown patches damp. The weather is perfect. If you have places where grass won’t grow, consider planting something else there next spring!

– as perennials finish blooming, leave the dead flowers on the plants. Collect seeds as they ripen; let most remain to feed the birds during the winter. For most perennials, I will not remove any growth until early next spring.

– think about next year’s perennial garden: what needs to be cut back, moved, divided, replanted? The same goes for the vegetable garden: what did well or poorly? what pests or diseases appeared this season? what would you like to have more of?

– pick cool-weather crops such as greens and peas that you planted in late summer. Allow winter squash to ripen after harvesting.

— Pull up and discard (do not compost) warm-weather plants such as cucumbers, squash, beans, and tomatoes that are attacked by insects or disease. Start cleaning up the vegetable garden: remove warm-weather plants as they stop producing.

– Take advantage of the relatively cool weather to do garden chores: carry out remedial or cosmetic pruning as needed.

 

The Asteraceae (Part II)

This fall feels farther along than it really is because the  nights have been so cool. Trees are already showing considerable color. But many plants in the Asteraceae family are still hanging in there, showing their last few blossoms and continuing to ripen seeds.

Right now, it’s all about the asters: New England asters, several shade-loving species, sky-blue asters, heath asters (scads of tiny white flowers, not pictured). My garden is still full of color, and when the sun is out, the flowers still hum with pollinators.

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Most of these will be in bloom for another month, barring very cold weather. Their seed won’t begin to ripen until frost, and plants in shady places are just showing buds.

Goldenrod (Solidago spp.) is aster’s invariable associate almost everywhere in the northeast. There are many, many species; the one in my garden is a volunteer; it’s about 3 feet tall, and it does well in both sun and part shade. Boltonia asteroides is another member of the tribe and also a good companion for the sun-loving asters. Boltonia began blooming even later than the asters–only about a week ago–and it too will bloom until frost.

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Notice the Rudbeckia subtomentosa still blooming in the last picture. That species has many ripe seeds now even as it continues to bloom. Members of the Asteraceae family have now been blooming in my garden for well over three months, since the first Coreopsis opened in late May (I forgot about Coreopsis when I wrote my first post on the Asteraceae), and much longer, if you consider the early spring dandelions. Dandelions aside, consider planting some of these beautiful and carefree species–Asters, Rudbeckias, Echinaceas, goldenrod, liatris, ironweed, Boltonia–and their many cousins.

 

Watching grass grow

OK, this is not going to be an exciting post, at least not visually. We’re going to watch grass grow: I’m going to show you how to reseed small areas of lawn, since this is the perfect time of year and perfect weather to do it.

Reseeding a bare patch of lawn is easy if and only if you can keep the area damp while the grass is getting started. You’ll have to water gently a couple of times a day, more if the weather is hot. So here’s what you do:

Start by raking the area clear of all weeds and thatch, as I did on this small crescent-shaped area at the edge of my patio:

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Next, scatter the seed rather thickly and as evenly as you can. Since I did this by hand, it’s not very even, but it will do. And buy the right grass seed for the area you’re reseeding. I bought a mix for high-traffic areas in full sun:

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Finally, scatter a very thin layer (less than 1/4″) of compost, and water gently but thoroughly. I bought a small bag of organic compost for this task, because my compost is never free of weed seeds:

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If you look closely, you’ll notice that you can still see some seed through the compost, and that’s OK–it’s better than a thick layer that would smother the germinating plants. Now the only thing left to do is to keep the area damp until the grass germinates, which takes about a week, depending on the weather.

Today, 9 days later, most of the grass is up (as is a dandelion I missed when I weeded):

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If you look closely, you can see the new grass growing (it looks much better from the side). And that’s all there is to it–no fertilizer, no herbicides, no salt hay (although for a larger area that might be a good idea). Just seed and a little compost–and a gentle watering a couple of times a day.

 

9/20/13: In the garden this week

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It’s not just trees that show fall color (although they are doing so remarkably early this year because of the very cool weather we’ve been enjoying). Many native perennials turn lovely colors in fall, like these sundrops in a bed on my front lawn. And notice the almost-ripe seed cluster of nodding pink onion (Allium cernuum) right behind the Rudbeckia flower at top left. It’s time to harvest seeds:

– last call to plant your fall vegetable garden: cool-weather crops such as lettuce, arugula, peas, and mustards (brassicas).

– keep the grass long (3″ or more) to reduce mowing times. Mow with a mulching mower and leave the clippings on the lawn, where they will serve as natural fertilizer. There is no need to water unless you are also reseeding (see below).

– fall is the time to renew your lawn. If you fertilize your lawn (although this is not something I recommend), this is a good time to do it, using a slow-release organic product. If patches need reseeding, buy seed, sow it, and keep the newly sown patches damp. The weather is perfect. If you have places where grass won’t grow, consider planting something else there next spring!

– as perennials finish blooming, leave the dead flowers on the plants. Collect seeds as they ripen; let most remain to feed the birds next winter. For most perennials, I will not remove any growth until early next spring.

– think about next year’s perennial garden: what needs to be cut back, moved, divided, replanted?

– harvest squash and beans before they get large and tough. Allow winter squash to ripen after harvesting. Pull up and discard (do not compost) warm-weather plants such as cucumbers, squash, and beans that are attacked by insects or disease.

– Because of the cool weather, tomato plants are pretty much done for the season. Consider harvesting the green tomatoes and pulling out the plants sooner rather than later to prevent the spread of the fungal diseases tomato plants are subject to

–Expect pest populations to decline naturally as the weather cools down.

– Take advantage of the relatively cool weather to do garden chores: carry out remedial or cosmetic pruning as needed, now that the ground is nice and wet, do some weeding.

We rarely get a spell of such beautiful early fall weather as we’ve had this week. The sun is warm, but the shadows are cool; we need a jacket to sit outdoors in late afternoon. Enjoy!