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Hamptons Life

Sep 24, 2017 9:57 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Fall Ramble: Electric Chainsaws, Pest And Weed Control, Grass Seeding

Dandelions will flower well into November and each flower’s seed can produce over 100 new plants. Get them out now and prevent many of the spring weed problems.  ANDREW MESSINGER
Sep 25, 2017 10:11 AM

It’s the time of the year when I don’t sleep much at night.

It’s hurricane season, and even though we rarely get the “big one,” there’s always that chance. As they come up the East Coast, just a wobble of 50 miles can be the difference between heavy rain, salt spray with no rain, and, of course, wind.

So, I’ve also got chainsaws on my mind. Do they work? Do we have fuel and extra chains?

You may have noticed that the big-box stores and some hardware stores are pushing lines of lithium battery-powered garden tools, including chainsaws. Great to have one of these around just in case—but you need to keep the battery charged. They’ll be helpful for cutting small limbs and some cleanup work, but consider one thing when choosing a battery saw versus a gas saw: When there’s no power for two or more days, and your saw’s battery is dead, then what?

Ah, charge it from your emergency generator? Not a good idea. I’m told the battery chargers need a “smooth” and consistent current to properly work, and your 5K knock-off generator may actually damage the battery.

Just some food for thought. Gas and battery weigh and cost about the same, but the gas will last for days on a gallon of fuel—no electricity needed.

No, you’re not alone if you think there are some strange things going on in the garden this year. Mother Nature always seems to even things out in the long term, and one hot and dry summer (2016) does not foretell the future, as evidenced by this summer being cool and wet.

Many gardeners are complaining about tomatoes and peppers not ripening, some apple and pear trees have dropped all their foliage but not their fruit, melons and squash may be small, and one reader noted that his potted hibiscus, which blooms each summer, wasn’t blooming.

Again, it’s one summer in millions—and, no, chicken little, the sky is not falling. No, I am not a climate change doubter. But by the same token, climate change is not noted over a single year or two. We note these changes over decades and centuries.

Each garden year has its own distinct features, and no two will ever be alike. Climate change is more noticeable by those plants that grow here that didn’t 50 years ago.

I was reminded by horticulturist and organic gardener Mike McGrath last week that, 50 years ago, crape myrtle grew only as far north as Washington, D.C., and now it’s commonly used in Long Island landscapes. It does remember its genetics, though, and every time we have a cold winter (like this one coming), the following spring and summer I’m swamped with crape myrtle questions.

Ah, one other tidbit related to the weather:

I grow two types of perennial ageratum. The white one is Ageratina altissima, and it usually blooms in late August into September; the other is Eupatorium coelestinum, which blooms from July through late September. This year, they are blooming at the same time and at the same height, which I never remember happening before.

It’s been a wonderful season for slugs. If you’ve got ducks or chickens roaming around your property, they are certainly controlling these slimy creatures—but if not, you can still do some organic or chemical baiting.

Why now? Every slug that disappears from your garden now is one that can’t reproduce and return next year.

Along the same line, you may recall that, early last spring, we discovered whitefly in our vegetable garden that had overwintered on some kale and broccoli. The game plan was to get them taken care of then so they would not be a problem later in the season. But the gardener who takes care of the veggie garden was not aggressive and didn’t do her monitoring as she planted other crops, including cabbages, kales, tomatoes and more. Come mid-August, when I did a garden walk-through, I was greeted by clouds of whitefly.

At that point, the gardener wanted to bring in beneficial insects that would “clean up” the whitefly. It was late August, though, and I suggested that it might be a futile effort, and now she needed to do some spraying simply to knock down the population, and then, at the end of the season, remove all the host plants for the winter: no cabbage, no Brussels sprouts, no kale. Then, next spring, very early monitoring, spraying and the introduction of the beneficial insects (tiny wasps).

When I wrote about planting grass seed a few weeks ago, I forgot to include a seeding method that I’d learned from my father.

For small areas that needed seeding or patching, he would mix some sifted or screened soil into a bucket and then add handfuls of grass seed until he got the mix just right. No recipe, no certain number of handfuls to quantity a of soil—he just knew what the mix should look like. He’d add the mix to the area to be patched to a depth of about a half inch, tamp it with his rake and, well, it worked.

If you’ve got houseplants outside that winter inside, now is the time to clean them up and get them back in. At the very least, wash them down with room-temperature water, but, even better, give them a spray of a light horticultural oil.

Also check under the pots for signs of slugs and hiding beetles, and if you do find insects on the plant, don’t bring it in until you know it’s clean.

Want to re-bloom that amaryllis that was so spectacular last winter? Remember that it needs at least six weeks of dormancy, followed by another six or more weeks of re-growth for it to bloom again. Check online for detailed instructions, but if you want it blooming in the winter, you need to get it dormant really soon.

This is also the best time of the year to get those lawn weeds under control. Dandelions will continue to grow, flower and set seed well into November, so each one pulled now can mean a hundred or more that can’t grow next year.

Early fall is the ideal time to treat for all broad-leaf weeds, and it can be done by hand, with chemicals or organically. One organic material that I tested several years ago is sold under the trade name “Fiesta.” It’s expensive, and a little tricky to use, but it won’t kill grasses, and you can re-seed or over-seed in a day. It does darken the grass that’s left behind, but that fades away quickly.

Whatever herbicide you use, don’t allow any areas left weedless to become a new weed patch. Re-seed or over-seed as soon as the instructions say it’s safe.

Looking for a tall lily that will bloom late in your garden next year? Lily Mystique, an Oreinpet hybrid, is the tallest and latest in my garden. It’s not always available, but if you get a chance to buy a few, expect it to flower in early September, and it may be 7 or more feet tall, with very lightly scented flowers that vary between copper and pinks

Some different tulips next week. Keep growing!

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