October 2019 Gardening Tips

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Welcome to October everyone. I love fall gentle breezes, soft sunshine and the foliage colors are breathtaking. The soil is still warm and you can plant until the first week of November.  In fact early November is a great time to plant spring bulbs.

You also have time over the next few weeks to divide summer blooming perennials, which have been in the ground for three years or more. Dividing perennials gives them a new lease on life and encourages more prolific bloom next season. The rules on transplanting also cover dividing.  

Fall planting with soil remaining above 40 degrees gives plants a head start on those planted in spring.  This is especially true, when we have a late cold, wet spring, which has happened in recent years. However, evergreens will have to wait until next spring, as they cannot be planted after September; the reason being is they have shallow roots and need time to establish before the heavy frosts.   

Early spring blooming perennials such as Iris can be divided up to the second week of October; the soil should still be quite warm and with adequate moisture there will be enough root growth to anchor these divisions before frost heave becomes a problem. When dividing Iris cover the horizontal root divisions (the rhizomes) with just enough soil so they do not topple over, any deeper and they will not flower, of course add composted manure around them when planted.

PLANTING AND TRANSPLANTING PLANTS - in fall the soil remains warm enough for planting through October and this year even into mid November. When planting a tree or shrub, dig la hole at least one and a half times as wide, not deep, as the root ball.  

Another cardinal rule: Do not plant the tree or shrub any deeper than it is in the container or balled burlap. Or when transplanting any plant, tree, and shrub, perennial do not plant any deeper than it was originally in your garden as planting too deep can be the death of plants. 

If you are unable to dig to any depth for your plant in the case of ledge in your garden, berm up the soil on the ledge and plant so that part of the root ball is above the soil grade, mounding soil around it.  

Handle your tree or shrub by its root ball, not by the trunk or branches.  After planting and transplanting add composted manure and, one part compost to three parts manure. If you do not have compost, manure is excellent.  Water deeply, slowly and thoroughly when planting and at least twice a week through the fall until the first hard frost, which in this part of New England is usually about the second week of November.

The following trees are not good candidates for fall planting: Birches, Larches, Gingko, Oaks, Magnolia, and all flowering fruit and flowering trees as well as the Eastern Red Cedar.  These trees have fleshy root systems and their feeder roots are not large when young and take time to establish, therefore are susceptible to frost heave.

Also some perennials that do not like to be planted in fall are Artemisia, Lambs Ears, Foxglove, Penstemon, Anemone, Campanula, Kniphofia, Lupines, Scabiosa, Ferns and Grasses. 

Plant garlic this fall – garlic is the antibiotic of the garden. Plant it under fruit trees to avoid scab and root disease, next to ponds or standing water to control mosquito larvae or pour garlic water into ponds, bird baths and fountains to deter adult mosquitoes. 

At this juncture I want to speak as to what Franklin D Roosevelt said in 1937 that  ‘the nation that destroys its soil destroys itself’. America has not heeded that warning. Precious soils in this country and around the world are being destroyed by dangerous practices in industrialized agriculture and poisonous chemicals, which completely disrupts our eco system and poisoning all living things.

The Humus component - good news for organic gardeners - in your own garden you can build and retain a rich growing environment by building the Humus component. We are all carbon-based creatures as is all life on earth. Not only humans but also our soil microbes need carbon to flourish.  To attract carbon from the atmosphere need to build the humus component. 

To begin the process of humus - add composted manure three times throughout the year  - Mid May, July and October. Manure builds soil structure and provides a rich planting environment for the following season by encouraging the millions of soil animals down below to manufacture nutrients for the roots of the plants. 

Plus add mulch in the form of natural brown fine bark mulch or wood chips that you produce from your garden – aged wood chips with a combo of leaves, twigs and branches. 

With manure and fine bark mulch, you are building the humus component.  The manure and mulch attracts carbon from the air, which builds the richest organic planting environment – the humus component. 

Mulching the garden and in particular any plants planted, divided or transplanted this fall with two inches of fine bark mulch, after the ground begins to cool in late October, will keep warmth and moisture in the soil and protect the roots of your plants through the winter.

You are probably asking what are the benefits of humus?

Humus acts like a sponge – can hold 90% of its weight in waterBecause of its negative charge – plant nutrients stick to humus with nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus and other elements, which prevents these from washing away, and acts as nature’s slow release fertilizer.Humus improves soil structure making it loose and friable, which helps plant root in this soil environment better access to nutrients, water and oxygen.Humus also helps’ filter’ toxic chemicals from the soil, mulch like carbon-based water filtration systems filter toxins from your water. We cannot control industrialized agricultural practices – but in your own garden you can make a difference.   Grow the soil and the soil will grow the plants. 

Mulch and peat, which provides the acidity is particularly important for any newly planted broadleaf evergreens installed in September. As mentioned previously, evergreens are shallow rooted, and can heave above ground in hard frosts.  I suggest that you store a few bags of topsoil and mulch in the shed or garage.  When you see exposed roots cover them with the soil and mulch until the plant can be resettled next spring.       

Now let’s look at what should be done now in the vegetable garden focusing first on cover crops.  Next week I will cut down the finished crops and dig them lightly into the soil. This year, my choice for a cover crop in one area of the vegetable garden, this year is Alfalfa, which has 3.4% nitrogen content, and on the opposite side of the garden I will plant Buckwheat, which has 1.4% nitrogen content and also provides nectar for beneficial insects. I will then cover the seeds with organic composted manure and compost; the ratio of these natural elements is one part compost to three parts manure. There are many cover crops to choose from; I use white clover and rye grass in alternate years.  In spring when the earth is workable not too wet or cold, the cover crop is turned into the earth as ‘green manure’.  

There is nothing better than your own homegrown organic vegetables – good for you and for the environment. The less hectic pace of fall provides an opportunity to rethink your gardens. The garden’s pre-winter grooming can wait for a few weeks.  You may feel that you would like a professional design, having thrown good money after bad and nothing looks right. 

If that is so then contact someone that you trust to work with you to create a plan in the fall and winter, which can be phased in beginning next spring.  Engage someone who will listen to your needs, and stay within your budget.  My son, Ian always says ‘it is not what you do in the garden, but how it makes you feel’. 

SPRING BULBS Daffodils - choose early, mid season and late blooming Daffodils, which will give you a succession of bloom.  Be adventurous this year and go for masses of a single color for the greatest impact. No matter how small your planting area, it is the intensity that counts, with two or three dozen red Tulips or a hundred Daffodils planted on your woodland edge. 

Buying daffodils in large numbers in less expensive, it’s true the bulbs are usually smaller but that is not a problem as daffodil bulbs grow in size each year they are in the ground. Even though many say that the bulbs should be spaced six inches apart, there is no reason they cannot touch. 

Apply some composted manure or bulbs food on the soil where bulbs are planted.  Wear gloves when you plant bulbs as they contain a skin irritant, which may cause a rash. 

The general rule is to plant bulbs about three times as deep as the bulb is tall and with the pointed end up.  This method is appropriate for most bulbs although tulips should be planted about twelve inches down if you want to have bloom for a second year. Daffodils should be planted no less than nine inches down, which is below the frost line.  Don’t plant the bulbs singly for the most colorful impact– plant in groups of odd numbers, 5,7 or 9 bulbs (odd numbers are harmonious in nature). 

Small bulbs like crocus, can be tossed gently into a shallow trench with composted manure on the bottom of the trench, about three inches deep and plant them where they land, pointed side up. For larger bulbs like tulips and daffodils dig a trench about nine inches deep and three or four feet long also of course with composted manure on the bottom and scatter these larger bulbs in the trench, also with the pointed end of the bulb faces up! 

Personally, I treat Tulips as annuals because their first year’s bloom is the best, after that first year the bloom is never as full and vibrant; the only exception to this is the parrot tulip, which flourish for years.  

Tulips are the ‘caviar’ of the bulb family. The best method to prevent them from becoming a tasty item on the rodent’s menu is to soak them in an organic deer repellent, also repels rodents. Allow the tulip bulbs to dry before planting. If you are unable to plants your bulbs immediately when purchased, keep them in a cool, dry place in paper bags.  The best time to plant spring bulbs in the Northeast this year, is in mid November due to the warm early fall.

Observe Mother Nature; plants in nature do not grow in straight lines but in gentle curves that connect harmoniously with the earth.  

TREE WORK – choose a licensed arborist. This work is much less expensive to have done in the fall after the foliage has fallen, then the arborist is able to see more clearly what needs to be done and the work goes faster – meaning less labor time and less expensive. 

If you have deep shade and want more sunlight in an area, ask the arborist to thin out the tree’s canopy and prune lower branches to make for a sunnier area, this will give you more choice of plants, that grow in dappled rather than deep shade.  

If you have a badly damaged tree, meaning over 50% damaged or diseased then have it removed, which allows for a sun garden or perhaps the vegetable garden you have always wanted.  

I do not cut down my spent perennials in fall, leaving them up so that I can enjoy the browns, grays, and yellows and faded greens, which blend gently with winter’s muted landscape. Also the seed heads of the perennials are wonderful snacks for the birds. And in the dead of winter, what better sight than a red cardinal on the Winterberry bush in the snow.  

Also wait until next April to cut down ornamental grasses; their graceful foliage is lovely to enjoy with the icicles on them shining in the pale winter sun. 

Any spent perennials that show disease should be cut down but if the plant is more than one third diseased it should be dug up and discarded. The diseased material cleaned up and discarded it in the garbage not in the compost. Clean up any fallen plant debris from the soil and ONLY if it is disease and weed free, can it be added to the compost pile.

Peonies – In November after the first hard frost, cut down peonies to within six inches from the ground and add some composted manure around the base of the plant.

SIGNS OF FROST – You can foretell a hard frost when you notice the afternoon temperature falling fast under a clear sky.  Assess the wind, by taking a long strip of plastic, like a shopping bag from the supermarket, and hang it from a tree branch. As long as the bag flutters about a foot in either direction, you do not have to worry about frost, but if it blows vigorously then frost is on the way.  If you still have plants in the garden that are of concern, cover them with salt hay, newspapers or light weight old quilts and put a brown paper bag from the grocery store over smaller plants like herbs, anchored down with rocks.      

Your houseplants should be indoors by now. Following their summer sojourn outdoors. Wash the pots thoroughly and add fresh potting soil.  Then replant the plant at the same depth it was at originally and put in the sink or shower and allow water to wash the foliage and water the plant well.  If the plant has outgrown its pot, transplant it to the next size clean pot, only one and a half inches larger.

If you have any gardening questions, feel free to email me at MaureenHaseleyJones@gmail.com Happy fall.