Halloween Decorations from the Garden

Thursday, October 16th, 2014 by Jenny Watts
    • Fragrant hyacinths make a colorful display in a garden bed, or can be grown in pots. They come in red, pink, blue and white and can be planted now.
    • Clean up the garden by raking leaves and old flower blossoms out from under your shrubs. Roses and camellias especially appreciate this.
    • Clean up water lilies by cutting off dead leaves. Leave hardy lilies in the pond and sink them down to the bottom of the pond for the winter.
    • Plant ground covers to cover slopes and large open areas. Water until the rains come, and they will fill in and cover the area next year.
    • Snapdragons make cheerful spots of color for the fall and winter garden. Plant some now for instant color.

Halloween Decorations from the Garden

Halloween is fun for kids of all ages. While you may be too old for trick-or-treating, you can enjoy decorating for Halloween. The nice thing for gardeners is that you can find many of the holiday decorations in your own back yard.

Start with pumpkins. Maybe you grew some in the garden just to carve into Jack-o’-lanterns or maybe you have to buy them this year. The best pumpkins for carving have a flattened end to prevent tipping, but any size or shape will work. A good solid handle will make it easy to open and close the Jack-o’-lantern lid if you plan to put a candle inside. When cleaning the pumpkin out, don’t forget to separate the seeds from the meat. These make a delicious snack when lightly stir-fried in oil and salted.

Did you know that pumpkins come in lots of colors? Of course there are orange ones for decorating, and tan ones which are used for pumpkin pie, but there are also bright red-orange ones, called Cinderella pumpkins, and even an Australian Blue pumpkin. You can also grow miniature pumpkins like ‘Jack-Be-Little’ and white ones like ‘Casper.’

Ornamental gourds also make nice Halloween decorations. The small ornamental gourds are easy to grow here and you can try the birdhouse or bottle gourds, and the speckled swan gourds if you have a hot, full-sun garden site. Harvest these when the stem of the fruit starts to dry, taking care not to bruise the gourd. Allow them to dry for about a week in a warm, dry place, then wax and polish them. Or use steel wool to smooth the surface for painting or staining.

Butternut squash are the perfect shape for white gourd ghosts. If you didn’t grow any this year, search out some gourds from the local markets, and decorate and craft them for the spookiest season of the year.

Tie dried cornstalks in bunches to decorate your porch or entryway or hang Indian corn from your front door. And create a garden scarecrow just for fun. You can make beautiful wreaths out of colorful leaves, dried flowers, nuts and cones. Start by making a grapevine wreath out of canes from your grapevines, then wire or glue the decorations onto it.

Decorate the front porch with a combination of pumpkins, gourds and ornamental kale, which is colorful all fall and winter.

Don’t forget backyard wildlife this Halloween! Put out extra treats for the birds and other wildlife! Save the pulp and seeds from your carved pumpkin for the birds! 

For lovers of fall foliage and the bounty of the garden harvest, decorating the yard at Halloween holds an earthy pleasure that no other holiday can match.

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.

Squash-Bug Control

Saturday, August 18th, 2012 by Jenny Watts
    • Start seeds of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and other cool-season crops now. Transplant them to the garden next month and they will be producing for you this fall.
    • Penstemon are bushy, evergreen perennials that attract hummingbirds with their red, pink, lavender or purple trumpet-shaped flowers all summer and fall.
    • Roses need water and fertilizer to keep blooming well throughout the summer. atch for pests and treat immediately to prevent infestations.
    • Shade-loving begonias will add color and beauty in both planters and hanging baskets.
    • Fountains create the sound of moving water that is restful and cooling on the patio or in the garden.

Organic Squash-Bug Control

Squash bugs are the most serious pest of squash and pumpkins in the garden. They also feed on cucumbers and melons, but are not usually a serious problem.

The adults and nymphs damage plants by sucking plant juices from the stems, buds and fruits. Then, they inject a toxin that causes the leaves to wilt, blacken, and die.

The adults overwinter in garden debris, re-emerge as soon as the weather warms, just as soon as you set out your little squash plants, and mate soon thereafter.

Squash bug adults are easy to identify. They are approximately 5/8-inch long, dark brown or grey, and hard-shelled. They give off a disagreeable odor when crushed. The nymphs are light green and look like little spiders running up the stems of the plants. The eggs are brown to brick red, shiny and hard.

You may first notice small yellow specks on the squash leaves that soon turn brown. Then the leaves will turn brown, dry out and become brittle. Waste no time confronting this pest!

The first line of attack is to kill their eggs before they have a chance to hatch. Squash bugs lay eggs on the undersides of leaves, and sometimes on stems, in masses of a dozen or more in neatly ordered rows. You need to kill the eggs to break their cycle and control the bugs. Get in the habit of scouting your squash plants for the shiny, brown eggs and rubbing them off or crushing them.

Also, keep your eyes peeled for the small, light green nymphs, which are often present near squash bug eggs. You can squish them, too.

Adult squash bugs can run fast when it is hot, but it’s easy to hand-pick them in the cool hours of the day. Drop them into a bucket of soapy water.

The best method for control is prevention through sanitation. Remove old squash plants after harvest, and keep the garden free from rubbish and debris that can provide overwintering sites for squash bugs. Till the area to destroy overwintering sites and to bury the adults.

Crop rotation is also important. Plant your squash and pumpkins in a different part of the garden each year. Praying mantids eat the eggs and nymphs and can be a helpful predator.

Squash bugs tend to develop resistance to insecticides and the adults are difficult to kill. Pyrethrums sprayed on the nymphs and adults is effective as a last result. Be sure to spray the undersides of the leaves. Neem oil is also effective on the smallest nymphs. Since hatching occurs continually throughout the season, subsequent treatments will be required to assure sufficient control.

Keep your garden clean and healthy and enjoy your squash and pumpkin harvest this year.