Horticultural Hints – October

 

October 2017 Hints

While a far cry from last year’s drought, things are dryer in New England versus earlier in 2017

Thank You, José. The close brush by a tropical storm gave many of us the gift of plentiful rainfall with little or no damage — the best possible scenario.  While we had a wet spring and early summer, August and September were dry (for most of us) at least until José came to town.  Now, the lawns, trees, shrubs and gardens have had a good dousing.  It’s important that our plants get enough water for them to fill their roots before the ground freezes.

To save time later this month, clean up plants that have finished their season.

Winding Down the Vegetable Garden. Clean up your garden as each vegetable passes.  Healthy but past peak lettuce and other leaf crops can be dug into the soil in place or composted.  But remove any plants that have developed seeds (most are hybrids and will not seed true), any that have had disease problems, or that carry unwanted insect visitors.

When cleaning up, pick up all the dropped tomatoes (they carry disease), every last bit of the squash vines and corn stalks (they harbor insect eggs) and every potato in the ground (they carry disease into next year).  Consider sowing a cover crop that will hold the soil and add organic matter to the soil.  To cut down on your work, choose one such as oats or annual rye that will die during the winter so you plant through the remains in the spring.

Leaves are gold, even if they are red.  Save yourself work, improve the soil under your lawn and make the local town dump (or ‘transfer station’) happy.  Don’t rake your leaves; mow them into your lawn.  All the nutrients to grow those leaves came out of the soil under your lawn and around your property.  If you mow over them, you will cut the lawn and chop up the leaves.  You may still see them on the ground in the fall. But before spring arrives they will have broken down and become part of the soil—with all the nutrients that the lawn and trees need.  Collect leaves when clearing off patios and driveways.  Chop them up as well and put them around shrubs or over flower beds to add food to their soil too.  If you run out of uses, put chopped leaves into a compost pile as a resource for next spring.  Leaves are too valuable to throw away.

Leave up seed-bearing perennials like this astilbe to give birds a source of food.

Clean up in the perennial garden.  I used to cut down all my perennials at this time of year, but no more.  I now leave up the flower stalks with seed heads for the birds.  Migrating birds appreciate the food.  And it is vital for those species that over-winter in New England.  Further many native bees are solitary (no hive) and winter over in the hollow stems of flowers.   I still clean up any plant with disease, trim back flowering shrubs and cut back rambunctious vines.  But having less work to do while doing good is a great feeling.

Bulbs.  Your tulips should be in the ground now, and small bulbs such as crocus, snowdrops, and grape hyacinth should be going into the ground soon.  Hold off planting daffodils until later in the month.  To keep squirrels and other varmints from digging up and eating your bulbs, dust them with lime as you put them into the ground, and then add a layer of lime on top of the planted area.  The lime interferes with smelling the bulbs, and is an important in ‘sweetening’ the soil for these plants that come from a part of the world with much less acidic soil.

Are your houseplants ready for winter?  All houseplants that summered outside should have been cleaned up and brought in by now.  Cool nights are a shock to these tropicals that we keep in our homes.  Plants should be repotted if they’ve outgrown their pots and checked carefully for any bugs or diseases they have picked up before being brought indoors where problems will spread quickly.

Earlier October Hints:

New England is in the second year of a drought (see the chart farther down the page for how much worst things are now than this time last year), and much gardening is on hold.  Except in the very farthest reaches of Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire, autumn will be muted and brief.  We’re down more than 20% of the precipitation we should have received so far this year.  Garden accordingly!

Extreme-drought-conditions-now-extend-well-into-New-Hampshire-and-Maine

Extreme drought conditions now extend well into New Hampshire and Maine

Effects of the drought.  No matter how bad your lawn looks after a summer of no precipitation and water bans, the grass will come back after the winter snows or even autumn rains.  Unless serious rains return very soon, this is not the time to try to rehab your lawn.

Any recently planted trees will need several big gulps of water to see them through the winter

Any recently planted trees will need several big gulps of water to see them through the winter

If your town allows limited watering, use that water on new plantings – and especially on trees and shrubs.  Perennials don’t need water after they have died back and shut down for the winter, but trees and shrubs do.  Their roots cannot take up water when the ground is frozen. They need to fill their trunk and branches with water before winter in order to survive the season’s drying winds.  If we don’t get several inches of rainfall in October and November, it’s up to you to give them several big drinks.  The best way is to place a hose into the tree’s well, allow it to fill with water, and then slowly soak into the ground.  No well around your tree?  Make one with compacted soil or mulch, or use a “tree gator”; a device that surrounds your tree and, after it is filled, allows the water to slowly seep in the root zone.

You'll get soil test results quickly this time of year

You’ll get soil test results quickly this time of year

What you can do for your lawn now.  If you haven’t had a soil test in the last two years, get one done now.  If you’re in Massachusetts, you can download an order form from the UMass Soil Lab here.  For other areas of the country, Google your state university and ‘soil testing service’ or ‘county extension service’.  Why do it now?  In the spring there can be a long wait for results, but now the lab gets sent fewer tests and you have more time to follow the recommendations.  The one number I always look for in the autumn is the pH of the soil (how acidic it is).  In New England anything lower than about 5.5 isn’t good.  Put lime down now and it will take effect by next spring when everything starts growing again.

These squash leaves have developed powdery mildew and cannot be composted

These squash leaves have developed powdery mildew and cannot be composted

Clean up the vegetable garden.  Once your final harvest is complete don’t leave fallen fruit, leaves or stalks in the garden as they can allow pests and disease to over-winter in your garden.   Plants that had disease or insect problems can be a source of re-infection in the following year.  Bag them and send them to the dump — never compost diseased material.

Phlox is highly susceptible to disease; bag the leaves and stems as trash.

Phlox is highly susceptible to disease; bag the leaves and stems as trash.

Clean up gardens.  Most garden plants look pretty tired as we enter October.  Cut down any that are unattractive or diseased. Monarda (bee balm) and phlox are highly susceptible to mildew (even this year) and look terrible by now.  Send them to the dump.

 

These coneflowers may look spent, but they can still provide nutritional seeds for birds.

These coneflowers may look spent, but they can still provide nutritional seeds for birds.

Save something for the birds.  When you clean up your flower beds, leave some of the seed heads to feed the birds.  Sunflowers are obvious choices, but plants such as rudbeckia (black eyed susans) and coneflower (echinacea) will attract birds to your yard.   Keep water available for the birds all winter if possible.  They need it as much as they need food throughout the winter.

Previous years’ hints:

2015

The heavy rains at the beginning of October gave us a respite from the drought.  But one soaking rainstorm isn’t sufficient to undo a summer’s worth of dry weather.  Remember to water trees and shrubs until the ground freezes if the rains do not continue regularly

Drought Monitor 9-29-15How dry I am… is probably what most of your trees and shrubs, and perhaps your perennials are saying.  For most of us it has been a dry spring, summer and fall.  The plentiful snows of last winter disappeared quickly in the spring and little rain has fallen since (Eastern Massachusetts’ precipitation is 24% below average through the end of September).  Many trees show damage particularly at the top where the leaves are dropping prematurely.  Shrubs are similarly distressed.

These leaves indicate the tree is stressed by lack of water

These leaves indicate the tree is stressed by lack of water

Use your water (particularly if you are in a town with watering restrictions) to help your trees and shrubs.  Winter is a desert for plants.  Once the ground is frozen there will be no water available to take up.  If your trees and shrubs cannot fill their roots and limbs with water during the autumn, they will suffer damage or die.  Lawns naturally shut down when dry and recover quickly once the rains begin. Keep watering the woody plants until the ground freezes in December if we don’t get lots of rain through October and November.

Cleaning up the vegetable garden.  You may not have started harvesting winter squash and you may still have lots of greens and leaf vegetables growing, but it’s time to start cleaning up the vegetable garden.  Because a disease called ‘late blight’ was a problem this year, pull up and bag tomato plants (once they have stopped producing) and then pick up all the dropped fruit.  Like the plant, the fallen tomatoes can harbor disease and get your garden off to a bad start next year.  These go to the trash, not the compost heap.  Be aware that corn borers can overwinter in corn stalks.  If they were a problem this year, don’t compost the stalks

Healthy plants should be pulled and placed in your compost bin or heap.  If you take a few minutes to cut up larger plants, you will speed the composting process.  After you have cleaned the garden, turn the compost heap.  This puts the new material into the heart of the pile where the bacteria can get to work.  It also supplies the oxygen that the microbes need to do their work.

Bees have less food in autumn - like these asters - and can be more aggressive

Bees have less food in autumn – like these asters – and can be more aggressive

Careful out there!  Early autumn is when many wasp, bee and hornet populations are at their peak.  And, with less food available, they are more likely to come in contact with humans.  Bees, particularly the American native bees, have suffered huge population losses in recent years.  Do not use any herbicides or pesticides that are not absolutely necessary in your garden.  While no one chemical is the culprit, many scientists now believe exposure to multiple chemicals is behind this population collapse.  And one out of every three bites of food you take is there because it was  visited by a pollinator.

Pruning rule of thumb.  Do not cut back plants that are still green and growing until the leaves begin to change color—they are still putting food in the roots for winter.  And no pruning trees and shrubs until after they have gone dormant for the winter.  Any cuts now might encourage growth which will not have time to harden off and will die during the freezing temperatures.  Unless they have been damaged, never prune spring bloomers until they have bloomed in the spring.

Button up your overcoat.  After you have cleaned up your gardens, spread an inch of compost or a layer of fresh organic mulch over them.   The compost will work its way into the soil, revitalizing it for the spring growing season by adding nutrients and organic matter to the soil.   Most plants that die in the winter do so not from the cold but from having their roots exposed as the soil freezes and thaws.  One to two inches of compost or mulch can help keep them warmer until the soil freezes and then help keep those plants safely frozen until spring arrives.

Help your lawn by mulch-mowing autumn leaves directly back into your lawn

Help your lawn by mulch-mowing autumn leaves directly back into your lawn

Lawn Care for Spring It’s not too late to do a world of good for your lawn. Go to https://soiltest.umass.edu/ for information on how to send in a sample for testing.  Based on the numbers UMass Ext provides to tell you what the soil needs, add lime and fertilizer now.  Fertilizer will strengthen the roots and lime is vital to keep the pH of the soil in an optimum range for the growth of grass.  Mowing  fallen leaves instead of raking or blowing, adds nutrients and organic material to the soil at no cost and no extra work for you.

Previous Years Hints – 2014

Use soaker hoses now to give tree roots the water they'll need to get through the winter

Use soaker hoses now to give tree roots the water they’ll need to get through the winter

Water, water, water. This has been an extremely dry autumn in much of the area, notwithstanding approximately two inches of rain in the first few days of the new month. The storms all seem to pass to our north or else dissipate well to our west. This is not a good thing. The trees and shrubs and, to a lesser extent, the perennials, desperately need water to fill their root, trunks and branches before the onset of freezing temperatures. Even with the leaves gone, they need water to survive the drought we call winter. The evergreens need even more water to keep their needles and the leaves such as on rhododendrons alive through the winter. Once the ground freezes they will have no source of water until it thaws in the spring. Water your trees and shrubs deeply now! Turn on a drip hose wrapped around the trunks of trees (see photo at left) or wound through bushes on low and leave it for hours so the water can slowly seep into the soil. Old established trees may be okay, but this is vital for any new plantings. Remember two to three years is new for shrubs, five to ten years for trees, depending on their size when planted.

By the way, your grass will recover quite well with the first real rain.

Clean-up. Much of the region has now been touched with frost and the tomatoes and marigolds, squash and petunias have departed. It is time to pull those plants that are finished and put them in two piles. Pile one is for the compost: no disease? no serious insect infestation? then compost it. Pile two is anything that is diseased or with insects eggs possibly present and certainly for any weeds with seeds that you pull up now. Pile two should be headed for the dump, or a burn pile. Separating the good and the bad now will save you work in next year’s garden. Because of a bad infestation of blight on almost everyone’s tomatoes this year, be certain to remove the fallen fruit from the vegetable garden along with the plants.

 

Your dahlia bulbs can overwinter for replanting in 2015

Your dahlia bulbs can overwinter for replanting in 2015

Bulbs In and Out. Begin planting spring bulbs now. Tulips should be going in the ground, but wait to plant daffodils until the soil temperature is lower. Put all bulbs at the full recommended depth. For most tulips, that is six inches below the soil line, for daffodils, at least eight inches. Smaller bulbs may only need to be four inches down. Don’t skimp on any of the holes you dig if you want the bulbs to bloom for many years to come. Put a small amount of lime on top of each bulb and when you close the whole, dust the area with more lime. This helps to prevent squirrels and rodents from sniffing out the bulbs below the surface and digging it up as soon as you leave the garden.

Also, it is time to dig up tuberous begonias and dahlias. Gently shake off the excess dirt and dry the bulbs in a garage or on a covered porch. Store them for the winter in a cool, dry place, packed in sand or vermiculite to keep them from drying out too much.

 

Lawns. Keep watering newly seeded or reseeded lawns until the new grass is at least one inch tall. Do not mow until it is four inches tall.

And take “rake the lawn” off of your “to-do” list. Instead, mow your lawn with a mulching mower. Chopping up the leaves and leaving them in place is a natural way of adding organic material and nutrients to the soil. The leaf bits will break down and disappear over the winter. Cornell University says that even 16 inches of autumn leaves on your lawn will readily decompose over the winter if properly shredded by your lawnmower.

If you like raking, create a large pile and then repeatedly run your mower through it. The shredded leaves make great winter mulch for flower and shrub beds. These too will break down over the winter enriching the soil where they are spread.

Prior Year’s Horticultural Hints

Houseplant vacation is over. All your houseplants should be inside now. Expect them to drop leaves as they adjust to less light and humidity. Water thoroughly but don’t feed them while they are adapting to their winter homes.

It has been a very dry September for most of eastern Massachusetts.  Trees and shrubs need to store water in their branches and roots during the autumn to make it through the winter when they cannot access the water in the frozen ground. So, pull out the soaker hoses and give them a couple of drenchings – unless it starts raining next week.  Perennials, once they have gone dormant, do not need additional water.

Mowing leaves into the lawn rather than raking adds nutrients to the soil

Mowing leaves into the lawn rather than raking adds nutrients to the soil

Never rake a new lawn!  If you planted a new lawn this fall, the roots are still very small and not very strong.  Raking the lawn will pull up the grass with the leaves.  But if leaves are left there, they could smother the new grass.  So just mow it. The chopped-up leaves will decompose over the winter adding nutrients to the soil to feed your grass.   Old lawns also benefit from mowing rather than raking.

If you absolutely must remove the leaves, mow them into a grass catcher.  The chopped leaves make an excellent winter covering for garden beds and especially around newly planted trees and shrubs.

How long should you continue to mow?  Keep mowing all lawns until the ground begins to freeze, probably later November based on recent years.

Cleanup time.  Vegetables, flowers and, shrubs all need a thorough clean-up now.  Remove all old foliage.  Bag any diseased or insect-infested material and send it to the dump.  Taking these actions now allows your plants to get a fresh start next spring, without the risk of infection from this year’s problems.   ‘Clean’ foliage should go into your compost bin or to your town’s compost center.

Garden centers are great places to start looking for autumn container ideas

Garden centers are great places to start looking for autumn container ideas

Containers need to be taken apart, cleaned and stored for the winter.  The exceptions are containers that can withstand freezing weather – usually metal, wood and certain plastic and foam containers.  Once cleaned, winter-hardy containers can be replanted for fall and winter color with small evergreens, ornamental kale, colorful grasses and perennials such as Heuchera.  Remember that containers will need to be watered even into the winter because the soil in the pot will dry out on sunny days.

In the vegetable garden.  Some vegetables will survive light to moderate frosts. Lettuce and spinach can tolerate a light frost. Members of the cabbage family such as kale and Brussels sprouts taste sweeter after expose to frost.  Root crops including parsnips, salsify and even carrots and turnips can be left in the ground for later harvests.

If you have a cold frame, lettuce, spinach, beets, kale and other cold-tolerant vegetables can be grown into the winter.  Cold frames can consist of nothing more than a well-secured tent of clear plastic.  A cold frame can also be a fancy unit with heat sensors that automatically raise the lid when the sun or warm days make it too hot inside.  Either way, it makes a special meal when some of your Christmas dinner can be picked fresh that morning.

Now is the time to buy spring bulbs. The selection is at its best and there are ample quantities.Spring Bulbs now!   If you haven’t purchased your bulbs yet, get to gardens centers while the selection is still good and supply plentiful.  Plant tulips now, and daffodils at the end of the month when the soil is cooler.  If you have a problem with deer or rabbits eating your bulbs, keep in mind that hyacinths, like daffodils, have an irritating sap that convinces most browsers that one bite is more than enough.

Plant small bulbs – chinodoxia, crocus, grape hyacinths and others – in clusters along sidewalks or driveways where they can appreciated up close.  Some of the small bulbs such as galanthus (snowdrops) and scilla (squill) will naturalize in grassy areas providing a colorful early spring.  Larger bulbs make a wonderful start to many beds where they bloom before the perennial flowers come up and deciduous shrubs leaf out.  Their yellowing foliage will later be hidden under the new foliage of the perennials.

Last call for houseplants.  It has been cold outside and your houseplants are not happy.  Clean them up, repot (if they have outgrown their old container over the summer) and check for any uninvited occupants.  It is also a good time to prune them back into shape if they have been growing too vigorously, or to divide them and share with friends.

Remember houseplants will be unhappy as they adjust to the lower light and dryer conditions of your home.   While they need water, be careful not to overwater them, and hold off on fertilizer until they no longer are dropping leaves.

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Previous Years Hints

Don’t rake, mow!  Mowing with a mulching mower and leaving the clippings behind now is one of the best things you can do for your yard.  You can eliminate a lawn fertilization by leaving clippings on the lawn all year (no they do not cause thatch).  And you can fertilize the trees and shrubs that are part of the landscape by putting the nutrients from the leaves that fall right back in the soil.  If you mow them instead of raking them, you keep most of what the trees need right in the soil.  The small chips of leaf will decompose into the lawn over the winter.  You’ll have saved yourself time and made lawn richer.

Clean up in the vegetable garden.  Dead leaves from tomatoes and squash plants, bean vines and corn stalks provide a paradise for overwintering bean beetles, squash and corn borers, and many other pests.  Cut them down and remove them from the garden now.  Do not compost because many eggs and diseases will survive the home composting procedure.   Parsnips and salsify will improve over the winter in frozen soil, but carrots, beets and turnips need to be harvested before a severe frost hits.

Allowed to remain on the ground in your garden, diseases on leaves will over-winter to caused problems in 2013

After the clean-up is completed, dig a trench and add half-composted manure mixed with garden soil.  You are now ready for planting peas next spring as soon as the soil has thawed and dried out a bit, without needing to worry about digging in wet soil.  While you are at it, prepare a second shallow trench in which you can plant garlic over the winter.  Place the cloves pointed end up and cover them with soil.  Put a light mulch on until you see the green sprouts appear.  Add a heavier mulch as the ground freezes.  They will be ready to harvest next summer.

Clean up in the flower beds.  Once again, take away those plants affected with disease or insect infestations.  [See my article on impatiens downy mildew—or why your impatiens died this year here]   Diseases and insect eggs often will survive in the soil and plant debris, so a fall clean-up is vital for a good garden next year.  Remove excess leaves from flower and herb beds since they can harbor insects or keep the stems of plants such as lavender wet causing rot.

The greatest danger when planting spring bulbs is too much moisture.  If your yard does not drain well, plant the bulbs in raised beds.  The second greatest danger is rodents digging up and eating the bulbs.   To keep them at bay, place a small amount of lime powder (not the pellets) in the hole after first adding an inch of soil.  When the hole is filled, water well, tamp the soil down lightly and then place a heavy coating of powdered lime over the entire area.  Rodents cannot smell the bulbs underneath and will not bother them.

Houseplants.  Your houseplants are probably in shock now.  Since coming inside, light levels have dropped and as the weather cools and the furnace comes on, the humidity levels will drop dramatically.  Cut back on watering and stop all fertilizing until the plants have adjusted to their new environment.  Keep a careful eye on plants for any insects that have hitched a ride inside.  Outdoors, they had enemies (good insects) to keep them in check; inside the care you provide is the only defense you house plants have.

Pace yourself! Garden clean-up is something best done in stages. It saves the gardener’s back and keeps attractive plants going longer. It’s also common sense. For example, remove annuals now if they are overgrown or as soon as they are touched by frost. Remove any flowering perennials whose best days are past. Cut down foliage that has become unattractive due to disease or insects. And, as for that diseased foliage, don’t compost it, bag them for the trash. You don’t want it around your garden.

Speaking of bagging… Gladioli and dahlia tops should be bagged and discarded along with corn and sunflower stalks. They can all harbor corn borers over the winter. Even if they don’t look diseased, composting iris foliage isn’t a good practice. Iris borers lay their eggs on the iris leaves, and the eggs overwinter quite nicely. So, cut down and remove the iris foliage from your garden each fall.

Euonymous alatus – burning bush – is invasive in New England. This is a good time of year to dig it out.

Go native. When you admire the bright red of burning bush (euonymus alatatus, shown at right) this fall, keep in mind it is an invasive that is taking over our woodlands, pushing out the native plants that birds and other wildlife depend on. In the woods it is usually pink instead of red and scrawnier because it is growing under a canopy of trees. But it is growing and spreading nonetheless. Removing the one in your yard is the first step to removing them from the environment. Need a replacement? Native shrubs including the fothergilla, itea, blueberry and viburnum provide great color with a clear conscience.

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

Add a garden the easy way. Thinking of adding a new vegetable garden, flower or shrub bed to your property? Don’t dig, cover. Mark out the area of the new garden, place cardboard around the edges, then put down 6 to 8 sheets of newspaper over the entire area. Cover it with 6 to 8 inches of chipped leaves, compost or soil. By spring the grass underneath will be dead. Next Spring, do not remove the soil or mulch but, rather, plant directly into it. Your bed will be lower as the material settled. You can edge with bricks, timbers or by just removing a narrow trench of grass around the edge. This keeps the grass from re-colonizing the new bed.

Finish harvesting your herbs and vegetables. It’s been a good year for most gardens if you had supplemental water. Green tomatoes can be 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. Do not compost. 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.  Or 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 ,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 (insert link). 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.

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 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, and plant in saucers not teacups, holes wider than deep to allow roots to quickly spread. Water frequently until the ground is frozen because the roots will keep growing after the leaves have dropped.

* * * * *

The leaves you mow into your lawn this October will have decomposed by next spring

Love fall color, but hate to rake? Then don’t! But don’t allow leaves to smother your grass, either. Mow those leaves with a mulching blade on the mower. Early in the season you won’t even notice the now- shredded leaves between grass blades. As the season progresses you may see some chopped leaves. Up to six (!) inches of leaves can be mower-mulched and left in place on the lawn. Ninety-nine percent of those leaves will break down into compost before Spring, improving your soil, giving you a richer, better lawn next year.

If you can’t bear the thought of not raking, or you prefer to mower-mulch and bag your leaves, don’t take them to the dump or leave them on the curb. Make use of those free nutrient-rich organics by putting them in a compost bin, or spreading mulched leaves over flower and shrub beds. Once mulched they won’t blow, they’ll look attractive and they’ll break down to improve the soil. Either way, the leaves stay out of landfills and make your property nicer next year.

Do you have mushrooms in your lawn? Don’t worry, they are a sign of something right. The presence of mushrooms means there is organic matter breaking down under the lawn. In other words, new soil is being made. If you don’t like the look, mow or kick them over, they are harmless to the lawn but, like all wild mushrooms, should be considered poisonous if eaten by humans.

Start your houseplants’ winter regimen. Your houseplants are still in shock if you summered them outdoor and moved them indoors during September. Don’t give them fertilizer until they stop shedding old leaves and then, only provide fertilizer in weak doses. And, be careful not to overwater. Now that they’re indoors, they are no longer dealing with strong summer sun or dry winds.

You can continue planting your bulbs in October. New England soil can be a pain to dig in, but it’s worth the effort to make certain that tulip and daffodils have six inches of soil on top of their necks, and small bulbs like crocus have four inches on top of their necks. Deeper not only helps to keep critters at bay (as does a sprinkling of red pepper followed by a top coating of ground limestone) but also means they are less susceptible to damage from winter thaws.

Keep watering plantings if Mother Nature doesn’t provide. Trees and shrubs planted in the last two years should be watered regularly until the ground freezes and they are no longer able to take up moisture.

Clean up your garden thoroughly. Diseased or insect infested plants left on the garden mean you will have many more problems next year. Bag and dump those while composting the healthy plants. A layer of leaves, compost or even animal manure put on the garden now means richer soil next spring. Another option is a green cover crop such as winter rye, which will improve the soil when turned under in the spring.

Are all your houseplants inside? Good! Now be careful not to overwater, and cut back sharply on any use of fertilizer. The days are shorter, the environment much less conducive to growth than when they were summering outside.

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. While a few plants such as kale and brussel sprouts benefit from a light frost, most vegetables should be removed, cleaned and stored before frost strikes. Perennial herbs such as tarragon, mint and chives should be reinvigorated by dividing and replanting. Tender herbs such as parsley and basil can be cleaned and frozen for winter use. 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.

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.

 Posted by at 9:45 pm