Whether you are hoping for a big harvest, a beautiful landscape, or a little stress relief, knowing the when and how of gardening will help you be a success. Use these timely garden tips to eliminate some of the guesswork. For more gardening tips, check out Melinda's gardening books.
Start covering your poinsettia now to have a colorful plant for Christmas. Give your plant 14 hours of total darkness each night and bright sunlight during the day. Make sure to block out any artificial light from inside or outside your home. Keep the soil a little drier and the plant a bit cooler at night for the greatest chance of success. Repeat until the bracts (leaves beneath the yellow flowers) are fully colored.
Dispose of outdated pesticides and those you no longer use properly. Contact your local municipality's department of public works, Department of Natural Resources or Extension Service for a recommendation on handling these materials properly. Many communities sponsor a Clean Sweep Program giving homeowners an opportunity to dispose of hazardous household waste, including pesticides, in the safest method possible. Reduce your use of chemicals in the future to eliminate this extra task in the future.
Gardening Tips for Flowers
The garden centers and maybe even your garden shed are full of beautiful bulbs for the garden. Now is the time for many of us to start putting them in the ground. Add organic matter, if needed, to the top 8 to 12 inches of soil. This improves drainage in clay soils and the water holding ability in sandy soils. Plant bulbs 2 to 3 times their vertical diameter (height) deep. Be sure to water thoroughly after planting to settle the soil and remove air pockets. Continue to water throughout the fall whenever the soil is dry. Those in warmer regions need to wait a bit longer. Once temperatures hover around 40 to 50 degrees you can get started planting. Those in zones 9 and 10 will need to purchase precooled bulbs or give them a 15-week chill themselves for late winter planting. Visit bulb.com for a list of recommended bulbs for your area.
Now is the time to dig and divide peonies you want to share with a friend or move to a new location. Use a spading fork to carefully dig the rhizomes. Dig a hole wider than the plant to avoid damage. Lift and divide the clump, leaving 3 to 5 eyes, or growing points, per division. Replant the divisions in a prepared site with the eyes 1 to 2 inches below the soil surface.
Gardening Tips for Edibles
Make a trip to the pumpkin farm, garden center or your garden to find the perfect pumpkin for Halloween. Select a pumpkin with the stem intact for longevity. Carry the pumpkin by the bottom, not the stem, to avoid damage. Select a pumpkin that is free from cuts, bruises and soft spots. Look for one with a flat bottom that will stand upright, lighter skin for easier carving and the size and shape you like. Keep your pumpkin in a cool place until you are ready to carve. Wash the pumpkin with warm soapy water before making the first cut. Treat the cut ends with petroleum jelly to seal and prolong the display.
Sunflowers are great eating if you can beat the birds and squirrels to the harvest. Cover the flowers with cheesecloth or season-extending fabric to keep the birds and squirrels out. The seeds are ripe and ready to harvest when the back of the flower head is brown or the yellow petals dry. At that time the fluffy covering rubs off the seeds that have developed their characteristic gray stripes. You can eat them fresh or hang the harvested flowerheads upside down in a warm dry place to dry. Remove the seeds by rubbing your hand over the face of the flower. Store the seeds in an airtight container in a cool dark place so you can enjoy your harvest throughout the fall.
Trees, Shrubs and Roses
Enjoy the fall color and plan a few colorful additions for next season. A few well-known favorites include several maples, sweetgum, serviceberry and redbud. Check out the ginkgo that drops its leaves in a few days and the katsura tree with its fragrant burnt vanilla-scented, yellow fall foliage.
The colorful leaves of fothergilla, Virginia sweetspire and oakleaf hydrangea add energy to any landscape. Look for the brilliant fall foliage of arrowwood viburnum, cotoneasters and sumac. And, if you are lucky you will catch a glimpse and whiff of the fragrant yellow flowers of common witchhazel (Hamamelis virginia) .
Water plants as needed until the ground freezes. New plantings, evergreens, and container planters need the most attention. Water thoroughly when the top 4 inches of the soil is crumbly and moist. Give all plants a thorough watering before the ground freezes. Properly watered and cared for plants have a greater rate of winter survival.
Don't rake those leaves into the street. Recycle that valuable resource right in your landscape. Shred fall leaves with the mower and leave on the lawn, dig them in the garden or bag and save them for mulch in next year's garden. Many gardeners tuck bagged leaves behind the shrubs surrounding their home for added insulation. Next summer spread the leaves over the garden to conserve moisture, suppress weeds and improve the soil as they decompose.
Lawns and Groundcovers
Keep cutting your grass as long as it continues to grow. Grow your grass tall and leave the clippings on the lawn. They add water, nutrients and organic matter to the soil. Chop fallen leaves and leave them in place. As long as you can see the grass for the leaves there is no problem.
Tips for Indoor Plants
Start forcing your Christmas cactus now for holiday bloom. Keep the soil slightly dry and the plants cooler, 50 to 55 degrees, at night. Do not fertilize during this period. If you are growing them in a warmer location of 55 to 75 degrees you will need to give the plants 13 to 15 hours (respectively) of darkness and 10 hours of daylight for three months to form buds. Cover or move the plants to a dark location each night and back into bright sunlight during the day. Once buds have formed and the plant is blooming provide consistent soil moisture, a draft-free location and moderate light.
Finish moving houseplants, hibiscus and other patio plants that can't survive your winters indoors. Gradually introduce them to the lower light conditions in your home. Check for and control pests. Wait a few weeks before moving them in with your indoor plant collection. Place the plants in the sunniest window or add an artificial light. Wait two weeks if you need to move it to a shadier spot in the house. Gradually decrease the light, so the plant has a chance to adjust to its new location with minimal leaf loss. Consider adding some artificial light for better winter growth and survival.
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