11/21/14: In the garden this week

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Since we got home from vacation, I’ve been busy gathering this year’s valuable crop of fallen leaves. No leaves, no compost for next year’s vegetable garden.

The weather has been very cold, although the soil is not yet frozen. This means that plants continue to grow roots, so it’s not too late to some plant large trees, and that you should not stop watering newly installed perennials and woody plants. Root growth continues until the soil temperature goes below about 40 degrees.

Here are some tasks you might attend to this weekend:

continue to water newly installed perennials and woody plants as needed. The recommended amount is 1 inch per week during dry spells, but we received a good soaking this week (3 inches of rain according to my yogurt-container rain gauge), so hold off for now.

do not prune woody plants. Trees and shrubs are still carrying out leaf abscission, the complicated process of shutting down for winter. This process takes a lot of energy, so plants don’t have energy to spare for making scar tissue. The next pruning window will come soon, when plants reach dormancy.

– thoroughly clean up the vegetable garden. Do not compost diseased or pest-infested plants. Spread a layer of compost to prepare the soil for next year.

leave seedheads in place on perennials and native grasses and enjoy the bird activity all winter.

save your autumn leaves for compost. Store them to add to the compost pile all year. You may also decide to use your lawnmower to chop them and mulch them into your lawn as fertilizer.

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Birds eat the seeds of little bluestem (Schizachrium scoparium) throughout the winter.

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10/10/23: In the garden this week

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In this small corner of one of my shady shrub islands, you see ferns, asters, Heuchera, an oak seedling that I didn’t notice until I cropped this photo, and a columbine that’s turned a lovely shade of lavender. Gorgeous.

While you’re admiring your handiwork in your garden this weekend, you might also consider some autumn chores:

water newly installed perennials and woody plants and vegetables as needed. The recommended amount is 1 inch per week during dry spells, but we received a good soaking this week, so hold off for now.

do not prune woody plants. Trees and shrubs are carrying out leaf abscission, the complicated process of shutting down for winter. (That’s what makes those lovely colors.) This process takes a lot of energy, so plants don’t have energy to spare for making scar tissue. The next pruning window will come when plants reach dormancy in late fall.

— harvest fall crops such as lettuce, spinach, and other salad greens. Harvest winter squashes. Remove spent plants. Do a thorough clean-up of the vegetable garden. Do not compost diseased or pest-infested plants. Spread a layer of compost over the vegetable garden to prepare the soil for next year.

established perennials should need no care. Leave seedheads in place–birds will eat the seeds you don’t collect.

save your autumn leaves for compost. Decide where you will keep them. Consider mulching them into your lawn as fertilizer; this is easy to do with a mulching mower.

consider fall planting. It’s getting to be a bit late to plant perennials, but many woody plants can be planted until the ground freezes.

And get out into the woods this Columbus Day weekend to admire the foliage. The sugar maples and hickories are turning color in many nearby woods. We took this photo in Campgaw Mountain Reservation this week:

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8/29/14: In the garden this week

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The first New England asters are open, a sure sign of fall. (I’m cheating a bit with this photo, which was taken last year. It’s been too breezy to take closeups in the garden.) The cool nights have been delightful–we’ve barely used our air conditioning this year. In the past week or so, I’ve been seeing hints of color everywhere, especially on the dogwoods and Virginia creeper. Many trees have dropped substantial numbers of leaves. So if you would like to start saving leaves for a compost pile or if you’ve run out of last year’s leaves, now’s the time.

With the shift in seasons comes a shift in garden chores:

– For the first time this season, the ground is quite dry, so if we don’t get significant rain very soon, water newly installed perennials and woody plants and vegetables. The recommended amount is 1 inch per week during dry spells. Established plants should not need watering.

stop pruning woody plants. Many trees and shrubs have begun leaf abscission, the complicated process of shutting down for winter. This takes a lot of energy, so plants don’t have energy to spare for making scar tissue. The next pruning window will come when plants reach dormancy in late fall.

– tomato vines are still ripening fruit, so give them no more than 1 inch of water per week. Remember to take rainfall amounts into account when determining how much to water. Water in the morning, and water deeply. Continue to stake and tie tomato plants and to remove suckers.

plant fall crops such as lettuce, spinach, and other salad greens.

perennials should need no care. Leave seedheads in place–birds will eat the seeds you don’t collect.

– if you fertilize your lawn, apply a slow-release organic fertilizer. Fertilizing is quite unnecessary, but for those who choose to do it, this is the one recommended feeding. Lawns do not need watering, even in a dry period: the more you water, the more you have to mow! Use a mulching mower and leave the clippings on the grass.

start your autumn leaf collection: save your autumn leaves for compost. Decide where you will keep them.

consider fall planting. Many perennials and woody plants can be safely installed in fall. Wait for the weather to cool down a bit. Late September to mid-October is usually a good window of time in this area, while woody plants can be planted until the ground freezes.

Enjoy this lovely holiday weekend (but hope for some rain)! And do think about saving those leaves. This cranberry bush viburnum (Viburnum trilobum) certainly thinks it’s fall.

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8/22/14: In the garden this week

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Boltonia asteroides is in full bloom in my garden, and the first New England asters are opening: the garden is shifting into autumn mode. It’s time to stop pruning, to plant fall crops, and to start getting ready for winter:

– We received a scant inch of rain over the past 24 hours, after a bit of a dry spell, so if we don’t get significantly more rain, water newly installed perennials and woody plants and vegetables. The recommended amount is 1 inch per week during dry spells. Established plants should not need watering.

stop pruning woody plants. Many trees and shrubs are losing leaves, which means they’re beginning leaf abscission, the complicated process of shutting down for winter. This takes a lot of energy, so plants don’t have energy to spare for making scar tissue. The next pruning window will come when plants reach dormancy in late fall.

monitor the vegetable garden for pests and diseases and take action immediately. In particular, remove plants affected by borers and wilt, and hand-pick to keep pest populations low.

– tomato vines are still ripening fruit, so cut back to 1 inch of water per week. Remember to take rainfall amounts into account when determining how much to water. Water in the morning, and water deeply. Continue to stake and tie tomato plants and to remove suckers.

plant fall crops such as lettuce, spinach, and other salad greens.

perennials should need no care except pinching to promote bushy plants and keep plants short when necessary. Leave seedheads in place–birds will eat the seeds you don’t collect.

– if you fertilize your lawn (which is unnecessary), plan to apply a slow-release organic fertilizer around Labor Day. Lawns do not need watering: the more you water, the more you have to mow! Use a mulching mower and leave the clippings on the grass.

plan for your autumn leaf collection: save your autumn leaves for compost. Decide now where you will keep them.

One of the most wonderful things about having a garden is observing the change of seasons in minute detail. What changes are you noticing in your garden?

Spring gardening

 

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The lovely native red maples (Acer rubrum–red flowers) are in bloom right now, as are the wretched invasive Norway maples (Acer platanoides–green flowers).

I’ve finally been able to make time for gardening over the past three or four days, and I’ve got most of my perennial beds cleaned up, meaning I’ve removed last year’s stems and leaves and set them aside for composting as needed. Because of the warm, sunny days, many plants are showing signs of growth, but because of the very cool nights, just as many are still dormant, so I’m very careful about where I dig. Because my beds are planted so thickly, I have very few markers. There are just too many plants for me to be able to mark them all! I do try to mark all new plants, because I may not recognize them when they come up the next spring.

The prairie beds, also known as sunny borders, still look very sparse. The shade garden, which is full of early emerging spring ephemerals, is almost solid green, although there are few flowers yet. Fern fronds are starting to unfurl. I am gradually dividing shade-lovers to fill in the newly expanded shade garden in the front. It’s a nice break from clearing perennial beds.

Lawns are finally greening up, but it’s much too early to feed them. I know that the Scott’s commercials tell you to fertilize twice in spring, but this is totally unnecessary and goes against current horticultural knowledge. If you must fertilize your lawn, only two yearly applications are necessary, around Memorial Day and Labor Day, and both should be organic products. This is a good time to reseed bare patches (although early fall is better), or to decide that you have places where grass just won’t grow. There’s still plenty of time to plant perennials or shrubs instead of lawn.

This is NOT a good time to prune woody plants, except to remove diseased or damaged growth. Plants are in active growth, and they have no energy to spare to heal the wounds that pruning causes. Early bloomers like forsythia can be cut back after they finish blooming. but don’t prune late bloomers in spring or you’ll get no flowers this year.

Here are some pictures taken in the Thielke Arboretum today:

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Skunk cabbage is leafed out. Here it’s framed by the delicate yellow flowers of spicebush.

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Fern fronds, skunk cabbage, and the tiny emerging leaves of Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense).

 

 

11/1/13: In the garden this week

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Please excuse the bad photo–the wind was blowing and the little blue flowers I was focusing on sway in the slightest breeze. But aren’t those blue harebells (Campanula rotundifolia) lovely? they bloomed throughout June and July and are now reblooming with all their might (and as you can see, my favorite Rudbeckia, R. triloba) never stopped). The harebell is definitely on my list of plants to buy more of next spring. Notice the lovely red color on the Penstemon as well. Many native perennials turn brilliant colors in fall.

Now that the gardening season is just about over, take time to review the season, clean up the garden carefully, and continue to do routine chores like weeding. Here are the chores you might consider in the coming weeks:

– continue to harvest 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).

– early fall was the time to renew your lawn. If you fertilize your lawn (although this is not something I recommend), do it soon, before the lawn goes dormant, using a slow-release organic product. If patches have been reseeded, continue to water them until the temperature stays below 40 degrees.

— if you have places where grass won’t grow, consider planting something else 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?

– allow winter squash to ripen after harvesting.

— we have had a killing frost, so remove dead plants: tender annual flowers such as marigolds and nasturtiums, eggplants, tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, tomatoes. Compost healthy plant material, discard plants that were attacked by insects or disease.

– take advantage of the relatively cool weather to do garden chores, such as fall cleanup, but do not prune now that woody plants are actively shedding their leaves. Now that we’re getting some rain, do some weeding.

collect the leaves you need for the coming year’s compost pile

— many trees and shrubs can be planted in fall, but be sure to provide winter protection (mulch) and to keep watering until the ground freezes and again in spring if needed

Get your leaves yet?

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In rural areas where lots of people hunt, the common greeting in fall is “Get your deer yet?” “Getting your deer” means preparing for winter, laying in supplies. In the suburbs we don’t hunt (often I wish we did, because we have way too many deer and rabbits), but we still prepare for the coming year. One of the ways I do that is by gathering the leaves that fall on my lawn. I started “getting my leaves” today.

I’ve written about the “Leave the Leaves” program that governments are instituting in many parts of the country–encouraging homeowners to recycle their own leaves rather than leaving them at the curb for recycling. I wish we had a program like that in this area, and I keep all my leaves. The ones that fall on the front lawn get chopped up by the mulching mower–they serve as lawn fertilizer, the only kind I ever use. The ones that fall on the back lawn go into the compost.

In the fall, I rake all the leaves from the back lawn onto a narrow strip on the side of my property, pile them up, and add them to my compost pile as I need them throughout the year. By late August, I will have used them all up to make two or three loads of compost, and I’ll have to go scavenge the first fallen leaves from a roadside strip a block away from my house. But that’s a long time from now. Right now, I’m enjoying autumn’s bounty. Those leaves will make compost, which in turn will allow me to grow vegetables next year without any chemical additives.

Get your leaves yet?