To Do in October

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

Well, wasn’t September fun?! Dry, wet, dry, OMG wet. Heartfelt sympathies to those who suffered loss by Florence. For those of us whose gardens were only moderately affected (or not at all) here is the October calendar.

Fertilizing
Not much to do here unless you are planting spring flowering bulbs. Should that be the case, incorporate a little balanced fertilizer (10-10-10 or equivalent) into the soil as you plant. Store any leftover fertilizer in a dry place for the winter.

Planting

  • The above-mentioned spring flowering bulbs (e.g. hyacinths, tulips, daffodils, crocuses, etc.).
  • Pansies! Those plucky members of the Viola genus who can brighten up a gray winter day should be on everyone’s list unless, of course, there are deer nearby.  Apparently, the pansies make a great dessert after a meal of azalea branches.  Plant them soon as the more established they are when it gets cold the better able they will be to withstand the cold.
  • “Fall is for planting.” It’s not just a slogan from the nursery industry. It is gospel. The very best time to plant any new landscape plants you have been planning is now.
  • Peonies can be planted or transplanted now.
  • In the vegetable garden consider a nitrogen fixing cover crop like red clover, hairy vetch or winter rye. This will help keep down the weeds and add nitrogen to the soil. In the spring just till it into the soil to add nutrients and organic matter.
  • If you happen to be one of the foresighted people who have a cold frame now is the appropriate time to plant a winter’s worth of salad. Lettuce, green onions, radishes, carrots, spinach and other leafy greens will grace your salad bowl all winter if planted now.

Pruning
Once frost (It’s October. It is going to frost!) has finished the decimation of the perennial garden cut off all the dead tops and throw them on the compost pile. Root prune any trees or plants you plan to move in the spring.

Spraying
Unless you have a lace bug problem, it is time to clean up and winterize the sprayer and store the pesticides in a secured, dry location that will not freeze. As for the lace bugs, they are active whenever the leaf surface temperature is warm enough (i.e. whenever the sun shines on the leaves). A horticultural oil spray can be helpful in controlling both feeding adults and egg stages.

Lawn Care
Maintain adequate moisture levels for any newly seeded or sodded lawns.  Avoid leaf buildup on lawns.

Tall fescue and bluegrass (not the fiddlin’ kind) can still be planted in October.

Propagation
Keep an eye on any new cuttings in the cold frame (the one without the salad greens in it). They should be checked at least twice a month and watered as needed.
If you are a gardener lucky enough to be able to grow rhubarb now is the time to dig and divide it.

Other stuff to do that will keep you outdoors while the leaves turn color:

  • Take soil samples while they are still FREE. NC Department of Agriculture will charge for them from November to April.
  • Put those raked 0r blown leaves into the compost bin or till them into the veggie garden.
  • Clean fill and put out the bird feeders.
  • Dig and store (cool, dark, dry) tender summer flowering bulbs (E.g. gladioli, dahlia, caladium) before frost.
  • Clean up lubricate and otherwise prepare lawn and garden equipment for its long winter’s rest.

A mea culpa. This writer neglected to inform you that it is time to band trees that are susceptible to canker worm invasions. This involves wrapping and securing the trunk with a coarse material like burlap or quilt batting about 4 or 5 feet above the ground. That in turn is wrapped with a corrugated paper wrap that is then covered with the stickiest gooeyest stuff you’ve ever played with. All these materials are available at some nursery/garden centers, one of which is very proximal to the Durham Cooperative Extension office.

For a fun activity now that will yield fresh living flowers in the bleak mid-winter try your hand at forcing spring flowering bulbs. Plant bulbs in pots early in October and place them in the refrigerator. In twelve weeks bring them out into the house and watch them grow and bloom. Kids love it.

 

To Do in August

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

Just in case you were napping when it happened, IT’S AUGUST! The dog days are here. That means at our house that the dog is permanently camped on an AC vent.  Who knows? Maybe she’s got the right idea. However, if you are one of those people who insist on torturing yourself in the garden, here are some hints to get you in and out of it quickly.

Fertilizing
About the only things that will benefit from fertilizing in August are strawberries. If you don’t have strawberries don’t even think about fertilizer.

Planting
Plant pansy seeds in flats for transplanting into the landscape in mid-September. (You can do it in the cool kitchen!)

Bulbs to plant in August include Lycoris (spider lily), Colchicum (autumn crocus) and Sternbergia (autumn daffodil).

Sow seeds for Delphinium (larkspur), Stokesia laevis (Stoke’s aster) and Alcea rosea (hollyhock) now for a dazzling display next spring.

Go all in for a fall veggie garden by planting beets, Chinese cabbage, cucumbers, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard, radish, spinach, winter squash and turnips.

Pruning
NO!! DO NOT! Sharpen and oil the shears and hang them back up where you can find them in January.

Spraying
Watch for spider mites in coniferous evergreens and potted annuals especially if the plants are water stressed. Spray if you must.

Keep up with your rose program.

Peach and nectarine trees need their trunks sprayed for borers at the end of August.

Watch the cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, etc.) for worms and spray squash (except butternut) for squash vine borers.

Maintain the weekly program for bunch grapes and fruit trees.

August is an effective time to apply broadleaf herbicide on Similax (greenbrier), kudzu, Campsis (trumpet creeper), and Wisteria sinensis (Chinese wisteria).

Lawn Care
If you think of grubs as, well, grubby now is the time to apply an appropriate pesticide.

It is time to prep bluegrass and fescue lawns for fall overseeding. Sorry, but if you want Yard-of-the-Month next spring ya gotta overseed in the fall. The other option is a really big natural area (with HOA approval, of course). Or you could look into sustainable landscaping which is really cool stuff.

Other Activities to Make You Hot and Sweaty
Take your landscape plan out (You DO have a landscape plan, right?!?) and see what you might be ready to add to the yard in the fall. Fall is for planting.

Water stuff when Mother Nature is slack in that department.

Build a compost bin.

Dig your Irish potatoes. This time of the year I dig them in a sour cream potato salad.

August is also your last chance to chill out and rest up before fall planting and harvesting season.

Coping During Japanese Beetle “Season”

by Kathryn Hamilton, EMGV

At this time of year, Japanese Beetle “Season,” my favorite gardening tool

P1000072
Beetles are most sluggish in early morning.

is a plastic fork.

When disrupted, beetles are supposed to fold their hind legs and fall. You are supposed to be able catch them with a container of soapy water. In my experience that’s true only about half the time. Sometimes they must be pointed in the right direction; other times they need to be fished out from between the layers of a rose petal, and at still other times, they must literally be pried off the flower. Apparently, even Japanese beetles have a survival instinct!

Japanese beetles (Popilla japonica) are attracted to the foliage, fruits, and flowers of nearly 300 different plants, among them: roses, crape myrtle, hibiscus, purple-leafed plums, grape leaves, and geraniums.  If you are a Piedmont gardener, chances are very good that you have encountered these pests in recent weeks.

skeletonized squash leaf
A skeletonized rhubarb leaf.

The good news is that Japanese beetles are unlikely to destroy established trees or shrubs. Skeletonized leaves and flowers will grow back once the beetles disappear. The better news is that within 30 – 45 days of their onset they will be gone.

Here are some takeaways to help you cope with Japanese Beetle “Season.”
1. Only one generation occurs each year. They typically emerge in early June and are gone by mid-July. You may see an isolated beetle during the rest of the year but ground zero is late May until early July.

2. Beetles emerge when the temperature is “just right.” Scientifically this equates to approximately 1,000 growing degree days. (Here’s a scientific explanation of growing degree days.)  If the weather heats up faster beetles are likely to appear sooner. Weather conditions also determine the grub population, their larval stage. Damper weather typically means more grubs. More grubs mean more beetles.

3. Japanese beetle traps should not be considered control devices. Designed to attract beetles, rather than trap them, they can increase the beetle population in your back yard. Furthermore, if not emptied every couple of days, the beetles will rot inside, releasing an ammonia which repels them. Instead of going into the trap, they are likely to tap your hibiscus.

4. Where practical, cover the plant with light netting.

5. Just say “no” to things they don’t like. But who could imagine a garden without roses?

6. Rose experts advise picking your roses and bringing them inside. They can beautify your property the rest of the year.

7. Japanese beetles aggregate in response to odor released by damaged plants and a pheromone released by female beetles. I usually cut the least-damaged roses and leave one or two that have been attacked. They are always one of my best beetle-harvest sites.

Beetles in every corner of beat up rose
There are at least eight beetles in this “trap.”

8. Another tip, before cutting a rose to bring inside,

Rose closed sepals
Because the sepals haven’t fallen, this rose, if cut, will not open.

be sure the sepals have fallen or the rose will not bloom.

9. You can, of course use insecticides, a discussion of which is outside of this posting. However, any insecticide will have some negative effect on other insects, including those which are beneficial. The North Carolina Agricultural Chemicals Manual lists pesticides and their relative safety for bees. Should you opt for an insecticide, prune all the flowers first. There are label restrictions against using most insecticides on flowering plants and when pollinators are present. Read the label for detailed restrictions.

10. Insecticides only treat the exposed petals. So, if a bud opens throughout the day, the unprotected petals are just another meal. And, unless they are systemic, insecticides must be reapplied after a rain.

My bottom line strategy: I cut my best roses and leave a few that have already been attacked as traps. Several times a day, I am single-mindedly devoted to search and destroy missions, first dumping the beetles into a container of water soapy water then  finishing with a flush down the toilet.

Further Reading:

Japanese Beetles on Ornamental Landscape Plants

Japanese Beetles

Insects: Japanese Beetles

 

 

Be Mindful About Watering

by Andrea Laine, EMGV

logo nature.The good news is there are currently no drought advisories in North Carolina. The southeast received an average of 7.05 inches of precipitation in May, way above normal. So, we entered June strong. But with the heat index pushing temperatures way past 90°F this week, gardeners do need to be mindful about watering.

Here are helpful reminders:

  1. During periods of extremely hot weather, a plant can lose water through transpiration faster than its roots can take water from the soil, which is why we see wilting on hot days even when we’ve had ample rainfall. Learn more.
  2. Watering deeply once per week will generally do more for a plant’s sustainability than shallow watering more frequently. Learn more
  3. If your garden contains recently planted trees or shrubs, keep a close eye on them during extreme weather conditions. Learn more.
  4. Plants grown in containers will likely need more frequent watering during hot weather; twice a day (early morning and later afternoon) is not unusual. Avoid watering anything after sunset. Learn more.
  5. Don’t overlook the lawn. Turfgrasses are unable to photosynthesize (produce food from sunlight) without water. Learn more.

Even warm season vegetable plants have their limits and will temporarily stop bearing flowers or fruits during heat waves. Knowing when to water, how to water, how much, and how often to water can make or break your garden. Follow these reminders and keep your plants happy and healthy despite the heat.

 

 

Ask a Master Gardener

by Andrea Laine, EMGV

Who knew being a master gardener could bring families together?!

One recent Saturday afternoon, I received a voicemail from my sister, Laura, who lives on Long Island, near the town where we grew up and my mother and I gardened. At first I was worried–had someone died, was there trouble of some kind in the family? I thought of calling her straight away without hearing the message. You see, Laura never calls me. In 30 years that we have lived apart, I’ve always been the one who places the ‘every now and then’ calls that stand in for an in-person visit. I took a deep breath and listened to her voicemail … She just purchased a houseplant and had a question.

Laura knew that I, being an extension master gardener volunteer and lover of almost all things gardening, would be ready, able and willing to answer her question — on the spot if I could, or with a return call or email if I needed to gather more reseaLauraHouseplantrch first.

Don’t have a friend or family member who is a gardener? Don’t despair, my colleagues and I will answer your questions, too! All you need to do is contact our Ask a Master Gardener hotline by phone, email, or in person. Details are at the end of this post.

As Extension master gardener volunteers, our mission is to answer questions specific to your gardening needs. You can expect a research-based, unbiased answer within a reasonable amount of time. Answers are often accompanied by links to additional Internet resources.

Ask a Master Gardener is not just about growing heirloom vegetables, or prized roses, or rare trees. Master Gardeners are present to answer any and all of your questions pertaining to indoor and outdoor gardening in Durham County. If you live in another county, or even another state, contact your county’s Cooperative Extension Services office for information on how to connect with master gardeners in your locale. Master Gardener programs are in nearly every county in North Carolina and nearly all of the United States.

Contact Information:

Durham County Extension Master Gardener Volunteers
Office hours:  Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
By phone:  (919) 560-0528
In person:  Durham County Cooperative Extension Services building, 721 Foster Street, Durham, NC