» Archive for November, 2013

Dividing Perennials

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013 by Jenny Watts
    • Fragrant Paperwhite narcissus will bloom indoors by Thanksgiving if planted now in rocks and water.
    • Plant pansies, snapdragons, stock, calendulas and primroses now to replace summer annuals.
    • Plant lawns now to have them ready for next summer enjoyment. Ask at your nursery for the best grass seed for your situation.
    • Garlic sets can be planted now for an easy crop that you can harvest next spring. Choose from hard-neck, soft-neck or Elephant garlic varieties now available.
    • Compost your leaves as they fall, don’t burn them! Leaves make wonderful compost that breaks down into rich humus by next summer.

Divide and Conquer

Fall is a great time to rejuvenate the perennial border by dividing old clumps of perennials to keep them vigorous and blooming freely.

In general, summer bloomers should be divided in the fall, and fall bloomers divided in the spring. Grasses and bamboo should be divided in early spring just as growth begins. Most perennials should be divided every three to five years, but some, like peonies, are best left alone, as it will take them several years to begin blooming again.

Perennials need dividing when the flowers are smaller than normal, the centers of the clumps are hollow and dead, or when the bottom foliage is sparse and poor. Plants that are growing and blooming well should be left alone unless more plants are wanted.

Water plants thoroughly a day or two before you plan to divide them. Prepare the area where you plan to put your new divisions before you lift the parent plant. Prune the stems and foliage to 6 inches from the ground in order to make the job easier and to cut down on moisture loss.

Dig down on all four sides of the plant, about 4 to 6 inches away from the plant. Pry underneath with a spading fork and lift the whole clump. Shake or hose off loose soil and remove dead leaves and stems. This will help loosen tangled root balls and make it easier to see what you are doing.

Perennials with spreading root systems include asters, bee balm, lamb’s ear, Black-eyed Susans and many others. They often crowd out their own centers and can usually can be pulled apart by hand, or cut apart with shears or a knife. Discard the old woody center and replant the young, healthy pieces.

Clumping perennials grow toward the outside of the clump creating new growing points. Many, like astilbes, hostas and daylilies, have thick fleshy roots. It is often necessary to cut through these roots to separate the young plants. Keep at least one developing eye or bud with each division. If larger plants are wanted, keep several eyes.

Bearded iris grow from rhizomes and they need to be divided when they have stopped blooming well. Discard old sections and keep divisions with one fan of leaves, trimmed back halfway. Replant with the top of the rhizome just beneath the surface of the soil.

Plants that have very tough, vigorous root systems, like agapanthus, red-hot pokers and ornamental grasses, may have to be divided with a shovel or saw. You can also hose off the soil to make the root system easier to work with.

Plant the divided sections immediately in the garden or in containers. Replant divisions at the same depth they were originally. Firm soil around the roots to eliminate air pockets and water well after planting.

Fall is the best time to divide most perennials because air temperatures are cool and soil temperatures are warm. So take advantage of the mild fall weather to revitalize your perennials.

The Colors of Autumn

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013 by Jenny Watts
    • Tree collards are delicious winter vegetables. Set out plants now.
    • Enjoy birds in your garden by hanging bird feeders around the yard. You’ll see many different kinds as they migrate through this fall.
    • Fragrant Paperwhite narcissus will bloom indoors by Christmas if planted now in rocks and water.
    • Clean up dead foliage on perennials like peonies, daylilies and balloon flower and cut back dead flower stems on Echinacea, blanket flower and penstemon.
    • Japanese maples and snowball bushes are some of the most colorful shrubs in the fall. Plant them now and give them a head start on spring.

The Colors of Autumn

We all enjoy the colors of autumn leaves. The changing fall foliage never fails to surprise and delight us. Did you ever wonder how and why a fall leaf changes color? Why a maple leaf turns bright red? Where do the yellows and oranges come from? To answer those questions, we first have to understand what leaves are and what they do.

Leaves are nature’s food factories. Plants take water from the ground through their roots, and carbon dioxide from the air. They use sunlight to turn water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and glucose through photosynthesis. Chlorophyll, which gives plants their green color, helps make photosynthesis happen.

The shortening of daylight hours and cold, crisp nights triggers the trees to go into dormancy. During these days, lots of sugars are produced in the leaf but the cool nights and the gradual closing of veins going into the leaf prevent these sugars from moving out. During the winter months they will live off this stored food.

As the green chlorophyll disappears from the leaves and the bright green fades away, we begin to see yellow and orange colors. Small amounts of these colors have been in the leaves all along. We just can’t see them in the summer, because they are covered up by the green chlorophyll. Ginkgo, birch, aspen and willow trees turn a dazzling yellow in the fall.

The vivid red and purple colors in scarlet red maples, sweet gum and dogwood trees are made mostly in the fall. Reds and oranges are made by different pigments, called anthocyanins. Anthocyanin pigments are responsible for the red, purple, and blue colors of many fruits, vegetables, cereal grains, and flowers.

Chlorophyll requires sunlight and warm temperatures to do its work. As chlorophyll exits the leaves, anthocyanins are created to give leaves time to unload nutrients. The new red pigments protect leaves from the sun, giving some species extra time to absorb those essential leaf nutrients.

If you’ve ever noticed maples turn a deep burgundy before they achieve that crims
on red, it’s because the burgundy is a mix of outgoing green chlorophyll and incoming red anthocyanins, and the crimson is pure anthocyanin.

While leaves will always change color as the amount of sunlight wanes, weather conditions can affect how brilliant they become. High heat or drought can rob leaves of their brilliance, or make leaves drop early. Insufficient rain in September can also hurt peak color. But lack of wind and rain in the autumn will prolong the display.

It is the combination of all these things that make the beautiful fall foliage colors we enjoy each year.

Harvesting & Storing Squash

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013 by Jenny Watts
    • Spray citrus and other tender plants with Cloud Cover to give them some protection from frosts. Bring houseplants indoors.
    • Seed slopes with annual ryegrass to prevent erosion and improve the soil for later plantings.
    • Clean up the garden by raking leaves and old flower blossoms out from under your shrubs. Roses and camellias especially appreciate this.
    • Empty birdbaths and fountains and cover them for the winter, to prevent water freezing and cracking the bowls.
    • Liquidambar and Japanese maple trees can’t be beat for fall color. Choose them now while you can see their bright colors.

Harvesting & Storing Squash

Winter squash and pumpkins are the gems of the garden. Inside their hard and sometimes unattractive shells is a bounty of delicious golden flesh. And to add to that, you can store them away without refrigeration and enjoy them all winter long.

New gardeners are sometimes confused by the name “winter squash.” In fact, winter squash grow during the summer months just as “summer” squash do. The difference is that winter squash develop a hard rind that allow them to stored for much of the winter.

Pumpkins and winter squash take a long season to mature. Planted in April or May, they will reach maturity by October. It’s best to time your squash crop so that the fruits can be harvested and put into storage before the first hard frost, at 27°F. Pumpkins and winter squash can tolerate light frosts that kill the vines only. If hard frost threatens before pumpkins or squashes are ripe, blanket the fruits and vines with a tarp or loose straw.

To grow squash for storage, wait until the vines begin to dry and the rinds have toughened before harvesting. To test for maturity, press a thumbnail against the skin; your nail shouldn’t leave a visible dent. Never rush to harvest winter squash because immature fruits won’t store well. Unless pests or freezing weather threaten them, allow fruits to ripen until the vines begin to die back. Pumpkins are harvested when they are uniformly orange and the rind is hard.

Cut, don’t pull, ripe squash from the vines, leaving 3 inches of stem attached. A broken stem exposes the fruit to rot, so don’t use the stem as a “handle” for carrying. Cure harvested squash, unwashed, in a warm and sunny spot for a week or two. You can also allow them to “cure” in the garden in the warm fall weather. Take care to protect the fruits from cuts, scrapes, and dents, as all can lead to early spoilage.

Thinner-skinned types such as acorn, delicata, and spaghetti squashes should be used within two or three months of harvest. Skip the curing step and move them to a cool place immediately after harvest.

Hubbard, buttercup and kabocha squashes and pie pumpkins can be stored for 4-6 months. Butternuts keep best in storage, sometimes lasting until spring.

Store cured squashes in a room that is dry and cool – 50°-60°F is best – and make sure they have good air circulation. Humidity should be relatively low. Check your stored squash monthly to identify and use up any fruit that shows sign of decay.

During the winter months, when the weather is wet and cold, there’s something particularly satisfying about still being able to eat food from your garden. Enjoy the fruits of your harvest all winter long.