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Hamptons Life

Nov 12, 2018 12:35 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

It's Garden Cleanup Time

Powdery mildew from tall garden phlox will overwinter on foliage and stems that isn’t removed from the garden. Rake up all the old leaves and cut the stems to the ground and remove them as well.  ANDREW MESSINGER
Nov 12, 2018 1:41 PM

If the rain stops long enough and doesn’t turn to snow, the next few weeks are the prime time to clean up the garden, put things away, take your final notes and get those bulbs planted. Many of you will use the long Thanksgiving weekend as your chance to catch up, empty out door pots and put the season to rest. To the task …

Last weekend I took a walk around the property, reading the various flags I’d put notes on about things to do or things done during the growing season. It’s not a pretty sight, but most of the flags were unseen when the gardens were lush and dense. One of these flags had the simple note “Salmon Star,” so it was more of a clue than anything else. I went back inside, fired up the laptop and looked up the name in my database. Salmon Star is a late flowering Oriental lily, and I’ve always wanted more of them in the garden. It’s been harder and harder to find, though, and my notes said “scale it.”

I’ve written about scaling lilies before, and it’s one of those horticultural propagation techniques that requires patience, practice and a good memory or calendar. We dug the two parent bulbs, and I carefully pulled off nine scales, allowed them to cure for several hours then packed them into ever so slightly moist peat moss in a gallon plastic bag. They’re now in a kitchen cupboard that stays warm and dark and there’s a note on the refrigerator below saying “Check lily scales mid-January.”

If all goes well, that check will reveal tiny bulbils growing along the edge of the scales, which are then put into small pots and put into a cooler regime to encourage root growth and dormancy. In May, they get planted into the nursery and tagged, and, I hope, will bloom as mature lilies late in the summer of 2023 or 2024. It’s a long time to wait and you really need to have a time insensitive perspective for this type of pursuit. But for those who take on the adventure, it’s one of horticulture’s little pleasures.

So, yes, labels, tags and flags in the garden can be really important to those of us who take getting down and dirty very seriously. And now’s the time to make sure that any labels that you may have left in the garden are appropriately pushed into the ground and don’t get stepped on. The hope is that next year they can continue to serve their function and not be a source of continued confusion and frustration. Don’t expect wooden labels to last more than a season and plastic labels two years at most if they don’t get brittle and break off. Metal labels, like the Paw Paw labels I use, can last for up to 10 years.

Last chance to get those spring-flowering bulbs in. When I mentioned a few weeks ago that these bulbs could be dipped into a solution that would fend off hungry deer, squirrels and voles, I noted that the only product that I was aware of that worked as an effective dip was Bobbex, but it’s a special formulation of Bobbex and that’s Bobbex-R. The regular Bobbex won’t do the trick. The “R” formulation contains castor oil, which is the one ingredient that seems to be effective in keeping these rodents at bay. If you can’t find the “R” formulation at a local garden center, you can get it on Amazon.

Garden sanitation. No, it’s not a refuse service that comes and cleans out your garden. But it is a practice that you need to follow if you have any intention of reducing plant diseases in your orchard, vegetable garden and rose garden. The principle is simple. Plant debris that you leave in place from the past gardening season contains pathogens that will re-infect your garden next year. If you have fruit trees, make sure the dropped fruit and foliage is removed and composted or taken off site. In the rose garden, remove all the spent flowers and gather up all the fallen foliage as well. In the flower garden, don’t leave behind mildew-covered peony foliage and cut back your tall garden phlox to the ground, also removing any leaves that are still on the ground. In the vegetable garden, clean up all the tomato vines, fallen fruit, melon vines and squash vines. Yet again, a primary source of reinfection for next year if you don’t clean up.

If you are in the habit of composting, all these materials can be added to your compost pile along with your final grass clippings and maple leaves. A good, hot compost pile that will cook well into December will pretty much kill all these pathogens. But if you don’t get the pile hot enough and haven’t had luck with your compost pile, then get all this garden refuse off the property or far off in an isolated corner or bury it.

On to the power equipment. These days, that has to include battery-powered garden tools from mowers to string trimmers to hedge trimmers, grass clippers and chain saws. These are all powered by lithium batteries and these batteries need proper care and feeding or their life span will be quickly and expensively shortened. First and foremost, read the instructions that came with the tool and if you don’t have them go to the manufacturers website to get them. But, if you’ve lost them and never read them, here are some pointers.

First, keep the batteries charged. Once the battery reaches 30 percent discharge, recharge it. But knowing when that point has been met can be more than a challenge unless the tool came with a “smart” charger. Second, keep in mind that the battery life will decrease with lack of use. Again, read the battery and charger instructions as they are usually pretty comprehensive in the details and not every charger is a “smart” one. Third, when storing the battery keep it cool and dry. That does not mean in a freezer. Forth, store the battery in the case it came with, making sure the terminals are protected from shorting. In some instances, this is accomplished with plastic caps the battery came with. Don’t get the battery wet, don’t leave it in the charger unless it’s designed for that kind of use and don’t let the battery overheat.

If you have a standard lead-acid battery in your mower, tractor or tiller, remove it at the end of the season and with a slow-trickle battery tender give it full charge. This can usually be done in eight to 12 hours. Disconnect the charger and keep the battery in a cool and dry place. If the battery is in good shape and a no-maintenance type, it will probably be a good idea to charge it once more in mid-winter.

Wintering gasoline engines has become a bit trickier now that ethanol is blended into the gas. When this gas sits for a while, the ethanol breaks down leaving water behind that can kill your engine if it freezes or do damage to your carburetor. You can buy non-ethanol gasoline by the gallon at some mower shops and this can be your last fill-up of the season, but still add a fuel stabilizer, run the engine for 10 minutes, then turn off the gas valve until the engine is starved for fuel. I also understand that the marine type of Sta-Bil will also allow you to store your gassed-up equipment without ethanol damage. But again, add the stabilizer to a full tank of gas and let it run for 10 minutes then turn off the gas valve and let the engine starve itself and shut off.

There’s plenty more and next week I’ll add to the list so you can work off all those extra calories after Thanksgiving. Keep growing.

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