9/19/15: In the garden this week

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Despite the drought, New England asters are putting on their usual autumn display, although individual flowers seem a bit small than usual this year.

If your water company is Ridgewood Water, you’re still under Stage IV watering restrictions. Here in Glen rock, that means hand watering only on odd/even days. Other local water companies have imposed voluntary restrictions, but those could turn into mandatory ones at any time. It’s been a very dry growing season, and that changes most people’s fall planting and maintenance plans, as I’ll describe below.

Despite the drought, native perennials are blooming lustily, if a bit late: some asters and goldenrod are only beginning to bloom now, and there’s little fall color compared with the last two years, which had cooler summers. But there’s still much to enjoy in the garden, and much to do:

water new plantings: newly installed plants and annuals, like vegetables, need watering. Any week in which we receive less than an inch of rain, water all woody plants installed this spring or last season. Perennials planted last spring should be well-established, but those planted last fall and this spring need supplemental watering during dry spells, and this season is one long dry spell. How do you know when you’ve provided an inch of rain? An old yogurt container placed on the ground among the plants makes a great rain gauge. A tunafish or catfood can works equally well.

practice good horticulture with warm-season crops such as tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplant, beans, corn, and cucumbers: Continue to monitor for insect eggs and larvae and remove pests before infestations become serious. Throw out badly infested or diseased plants to prevent the spread of disease (do not compost diseased or infested plant material). As the garden winds down for the year, clean it up carefully. This year’s diseased plants, left in the garden, are the source of next year’s infections.

— As tomatoes continue to ripen their fruit, cut back on watering to avoid split fruits. Keep removing suckers. At time of year particularly, signs of various fungal diseases appear. Look at this post, this one, and this one for basic information about growing tomatoes.

— Tend the fall vegetable garden: if you seeded second crops of cool-season plants like peas, lettuce, and spinach, keep them well watered, especially as they begin to germinate. It’s about 4 weeks until our average first frost date!

— this is a good time to extend a garden bed or start a new one, and it’s always a great idea to eliminate some lawn: spread a 3-4″ layer of cedar or hemlock bark mulch over the area to kill the grass. Next spring, you’ll be able to plant right through the dying grass and mulch. I mulched an area of lawn during the summer and am scattering perennials seeds there as they ripen.

— follow a sustainable lawn care regimen: if you feel you must fertilize your lawn, best practice is to give it no more than two applications of slow-release organic fertilizer each season, around Memorial Day and Labor Day. However, if you can’t water, don’t fertilize.

— Similarly, don’t reseed bare areas until you can water. Better still, if you have a place where grass won’t grow, plan to plant something that will, like shade-loving native perennials. Measure and prepare the bed now so you’re ready to plant in spring.

— Almost all lawns are dormant now, and you probably haven’t mowed in weeks (yay!), but the grass will green up as soon as we get some rain. Mine showed signs of life after it rained last week.

— Hold off on fall planting. If you can’t water, don’t plant. Newly installed perennials, shrubs, and trees need frequent and thorough watering. But remember, there’s always next year!

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Virginia creeper is beginning to show some color, but the display is not as brilliant as it was in the last two years, which had unusually cool autumns.

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