9/25/15: In the garden this week

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Aster oblongifolius ‘Blue Skies.’ Like all asters I grow, it it producing smaller, more intensely colored flowers this year, although the blossoms are as numerous as usual.

Drought and more drought. Some plants look sick, some look tired, some look just fine. Trees that are diseased or are near the end of their lifespan are particularly affected (basically, all living things react similarly to stress), but all properly sited, well-established plants should survive. However, if you had planned on major fall planting or lawn renovation, you should probably put it off until next year.

It finally feels a bit like fall, with cool evenings and mornings and hints of color in some trees and vines. Sugar maples are showing orange and yellow, Virginia creepers flaunting red. But colors will probably be somewhat subdued this fall compared with the past two years.

Here are some things you could be doing in your garden this week:

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 water? An old yogurt container placed on the ground among the plants makes a great rain gauge. A tunafish or catfood can works equally well.

warm-season crops such as tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplant, beans, corn, and cucumbers are winding down. Continue to practice good horticultural techniques: 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). Clean up carefully as each crop finished producing. 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 this time of year particularly, signs of 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 3 weeks until our average first frost date! I have been harvesting a delicious fall crop of arugula.

— 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 mulch the bed now so you’re ready to plant in spring.

— 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!

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. The only grasses that are really green are crabgrass and foxtail grass, both considered to be weeds. But you’ve got to admire their stamina.

Enjoy the garden this week, and pray to whatever god you pray to for a little rain.

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White snakeroot (Ageratina altissima) is a late-blooming native that volunteers throughout our area. I welcome it as a great source of pollen for insects of all kinds. Can anyone identify this creature?

— 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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