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Hamptons Life

Oct 16, 2017 10:09 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Clean Up The Garden To Prepare For A Cold, Wet Winter

Oct 16, 2017 10:19 AM

The end of the gardening season on the East End is remarkably slow and gradual. In fact, it often seems to happen in slow motion, as we can still plant and harvest well into September and October. In the flower garden and vegetable garden, old plants that can be cut back should be. Tall garden phlox, for example, grows from new shoots that emerge next spring at the crown. If you leave fallen foliage and stems that have had mildew on them on the ground, the remaining pathogen will simply reinfect the plants next year.

The same type of problem can occur in the vegetable garden with plants like cucumbers, zucchini and tomatoes. This is why it’s important not just to clean up the old foliage and vines but also to rotate the area where you plant these crops from year to year, so the pathogens don’t build up on, and in, the soil.

Rose growers are all too aware of the importance of cleaning up, and the astute rosarian is making sure that trimmed canes and fallen leaves are cleaned up during and at the end of the gardening season. Many, if not most, of the diseases that plague the rose garden are very easily transmitted from plant to plant and from year to year from leaves that are left behind. Unlike vegetables, though, roses continually produce and drop foliage during the season, so this type of sanitation needs to be ongoing for these plants, plus, at the end of the season, a final cleanup.

It’s the same routine in and around fruit trees. While it’s a bit harder for the pathogens to get from the foliage that falls to the ground and back up to the next year’s leaves, which may be 4 feet or higher from the ground, it’s still a good idea to clean up. Dangling apples and shriveled peaches and pears should all be removed and composted.

And as the leaves fall, we enter prime time to transplant and plant many deciduous trees and shrubs. The reason it’s prime time for this is twofold. First, since the leaves are coming off these plants, the danger of rapid water loss caused by transpiration is no longer an issue. The second positive factor is that, as the soil cools, the roots begin an active growth phase that only gradually slows as the soil further cools.

Out here, this planting and transplanting season can often last into early December—but to play it safe, try to have this work completed by Thanksgiving.

Use a biostimulant at the time of planting, but don’t use any fertilizers until late next spring at the earliest. Most trees and shrubs don’t need staking, but if the candidate is unsteady, never stake to the point where the stake and tie make the attachment stiff and rigid. The point is to steady the plant, not to choke it or grab it to the point of complete immobility. Some play is necessary, and the staking should never be to the point where a good wind will cause the trunk to snap. Remember that when this plant leafs out again in the spring, the foliage will give the plant a sail, and lots of wind resistance.

Keep the leaves raked or blown off your lawn. If they are allowed to accumulate and mat down from rain or snow, your lawn will be a miserable mess in March. These fallen leaves can be added to the compost pile or piled and “parked” under a tree until the ground freezes—then they can be used in the garden as a winter mulch.

Two other lawn points:

After November 1, it’s illegal to put fertilizer on your lawn—and pointless.

Years ago, it was common to add a “dormant” application of fertilizer, but the research was pretty consistent in showing that putting fertilizer on a lawn after late October just results in nutrients that don’t benefit the grass plants, and do pollute streams, ponds and the aquifer as runoff pollution.

What you can and should do, though, is to have your soil pH checked on your lawn and gardens, as improper pH in the soil inhibits or stops the plant roots from being able to use nutrients. Ground limestone or pelleted limestone added in November to adjust the soil pH can correct this problem by next spring—when you’ll start to fertilize again. PH tests are inexpensive and easy to do at home, and many garden centers can do them for you.

Unless you’ve sown a cover crop in your vegetable garden, this also is a great time to move finished compost from your pile or bin to the vegetable garden and till it in, or simple lay it on top and let the freeze/thaw cycle of the winter do some of the work for you.

Well-rotted compost also can be added to flower gardens, beds and borders, and also laid on top of the soil, but don’t lay it on too thick, as you can smother the plants below. Be very careful not to add compost or mulch to spots where you have peonies or irises, as these plants need to have their roots very near the soil surface, and adding compost is tantamount to planting them too deep—flowering will cease in a year or two.

If you’re trying to keep deer away from your plantings, don’t rely on a single spray-on repellent for success. Have an arsenal of two or even three products that you find effective, and alternate their use.

If you’ve had a vole problem—voles eat plant roots and tubers and chew bark in the winter, unlike moles, which eat worms and grubs—use old-fashioned mouse traps baited with pieces of apple. Place the traps near leaf litter or tall grasses, and check them daily and re-bait as necessary.

If you see an occasional dandelion spring up and flower on a warm November day, don’t grab the herbicide spray to zap it. Pull the weed out instead, getting as much root as you can.

Chickweed, on the other hand, can not only grow but flower at this time of the year and is easily controlled with an organic herbicide, such as Burn Out. Kill this winter-hardy annual weed now, and it can’t set seed and show up again in March.

If you have large trees that come close to or overhang your house, this is the perfect time to have them pruned back. Gray squirrels, red squirrels and flying squirrels are looking for winter homes, and if they can jump or climb from a tree to your roof or gutters, they’ll look for a way to get into your dormers, gables and attic, where they’ll overwinter and drive you crazy. And once they’re in, it’s very expensive to get them out.

Get those bulbs planted. They won’t plant themselves, and they won’t flower in the garage come April. If you’ve experienced bulb thefts (deer will dig up tulip bulbs) and damage from digging squirrels and voles, there is a good deterrent. Dip your bulbs in Bobbex-R for a few minutes at full strength, then let them air dry before planting. This also works on expensive lily bulbs.

The reason you need to use the “R” formulation is because it contains castor oil, which these rodents hate, and the “plain” Bobbex does not contain it. Not cheap stuff, but with lily bulbs going for as much as 10 bucks a pop, it’s worth it.

Keep growing!

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