Tree fertilizer spikes are about 4 inches long and each type will be a different color. The plastic cap is put over the spike so you can use a hammer or mallet to drive them into the ground. Save the cap to use on the other spikes. Hitting the spikes without a cap usually causes them to shatter.
Once hit by a freeze or frost, Dahlias like this one appear to be burnt. Once this decay on the cellular level sets in it becomes very difficult to save the tubers, so don’t gamble for too long and get them dug, dried and stored. Remember to label by color or variety. ANDREW MESSINGER
Canna tubers dug, dried and ready for storage. They should be allowed to air dry -- don’t wash them -- and the stems should be cut to several inches and allowed to dry at the end before the tubers are stored. Label by variety or color to avoid guesses and mistakes next year. ANDREW MESSINGER
Tree and shrub fertilizer spikes are a good choice for small properties, but they get expensive for larger plantings. Jobe’s and Miracle-Grow are top brands, but there are others. Use the provided plastic caps when driving the spikes into the ground and follow the directions. ANDREW MESSINGER
Dahlia roots/tubers should be dug, allowed to air dry, then stored in a dark cool (not freezing) spot packed in peat moss. Each section should have several eyes (light protrusions emerging from the tubers). Don’t wash prior to storing. Cut the stems to 1 to 2 inches when storing. ANDREW MESSINGER
This season that we call the fall can be difficult for both old and new gardeners. As opposed to the spring — when things are getting started followed by a long growing and working season — in the fall the door is closing and there are things that must be done before the winter freeze sets in. If it does.
In prioritizing this year’s fall chores, watering has to be on top. Yes, we have and will get some rain, but it won’t make up for the deficit that’s accumulated over the years. For gardeners, this is critical because when water doesn’t seep down deep into the ground the new roots from trees and shrubs suffer, new root growth isn’t stimulated and the older trees and shrubs become much more susceptible to stressors like diseases and insects.
There is only one solution. When and where you can, continue to water any plantings that may be under stress or that were planted in the last two years. Supplement rainwater so that these plantings receive 1 to 2 inches of total moisture every week until the ground freezes or it gets very cold. This may not happen until December, so you also need to make sure that your hoses don’t freeze with water in them. If you really want to be on top of soil moisture, you need a meter with a moisture probe that will go at least 2 feet down into the ground. These run about $125.
Once the leaves fall from deciduous trees and shrubs, the plants can be safely moved. Know your limitations before you take on a project like this, and ask yourself if you’re better off having a professional do the work. This applies to transplanting as well as planting. Watering new plantings for the first year or two is critical, but proper planting at the proper depth is even more important. We’ve learned over the years that planting on the high side is much more successful than planting too deep. And never fertilize a newly planted tree or shrub. Biostimulants are fine, but fertilizer the first year isn’t.
Keep notes, lots of notes, as well as pictures. Write down what’s worked, what didn’t, and start (or continue) your plant list and wish list for next year. If you do all this in a Word file or spreadsheet it’s incredibly easy to do searches to find notes that seem to disappear. I always work in a file or folder for that particular year (as in “Garden20”) then in late November or December I review the file and move whatever needs to be moved into the new “Garden21” folder. This year, being very busy in the garden, there will be a number of things that are getting bumped into 2021. This list will also be helpful because many nurseries are under incredible demand for plant material and those who order first in 2021 will be the ones who get what they want. The same is true for vegetable and garden seeds.
There are some plants, like cannas, dahlias and some geraniums, that you may want to hold over for next year’s garden. Cannas and dahlias need to be dug before our first frost, the shoots removed, the roots tagged for color or variety, dried and then stored for the winter. Once properly dried and packed in peat moss they can get bagged or boxed and stored in a cool, dry location like a minimally heated garage or unheated basement. I’ve posted these directions here a number of times, but if you still need them just drop me a line.
Geraniums that you’d like to hold over should be done by cuttings as opposed to digging and bringing in the garden or potted plants. Cuttings should be from the growing tips of the plants and about 3 to 4 inches long with no flowers or buds. Remove the bottom two or three leaves and then treat the bottom inch or so of the cutting with a rooting hormone and “strike” the cutting in moist sand or a peat-based potting soil that has no fertilizer in it. It will also help to have some kind of dome or clear plastic bag over the cutting as this will retain some heat and moisture. Keep out of direct sunlight and the cuttings should root in about two weeks and can then be grown on in a sunny window. Take cuttings of these again in late February or early March and root them in the same way. These will be the plants that go into your 2021 garden or planters.
Clay or terra cotta pots, especially the large ones, can be very expensive with some running $1,000 for the likes of Seibert & Rice pots. Many can be stored outdoors over the winter as long as they are not in ground contact and they do not accumulate water. We invert ours and set them upside down on wooden “feet.” If the pots are planted then the job becomes more of a challenge. Before it freezes and as soon as the plants can be cut down, the pots need to be covered to keep moisture out. There is danger here though, trust me, I know. The moisture left in the pots will freeze and freezing things expand — cracking pots. In these cases it may make sense to empty the pots and find a place where the plants can be “healed in” outdoors then replanted in the spring.
Most of your lawn work should be done other than the removal of leaves and a few more cuttings. Some weed control can still be done on perennial weeds but it’s getting late. Then there’s the practice of winter overseeding of lawns. I have very mixed feelings about this but I will admit that every year I buy about 50 pounds of seed and overseed my lawn (about an acre) in this way. The theory is that at least some of the seed will work its way down to the soil and the freeze/thaw action of the winter will bring this seed into contact with soil where it then germinates. But what percentage of seed actually does this?
It does seem to work, though there is no way I can prove it other than the fact that in the spring and fall my lawn looks really great. Oh, and it looks especially great at night. Yes, I have my share of weeds and no it doesn’t look at all like the bluegrass lawns in certain sections of town but when there’s enough rain I really, really love my lawn.
Sorry for those who think lawns are left over landscape elements from earlier generations. Consider, though, that my lawn is 100 percent organic, living and green. Oh, and not irrigated. If you do use this regimen, remember to apply any pre-emergent herbicides as late in the spring as possible so any remaining grass seed can germinate.
When it gets to November, then it’s time to feed the trees. This practice also has some scientific doubts attached. After all, who goes out into the woods and forest to feed those trees? But in our urban landscapes where trees and shrubs often don’t get the benefit from other decaying organic material, there may be some need to feed. Fruit trees and berry bushes for example need the extra nutrients to produce the quality of produce that we expect. On the other hand, oak and maple may not need hundreds of dollars worth of root feeding and vertical mulching that arborists are so eager to sell.
Some tree feeding, especially on smaller properties, can be done with fertilizer spikes (use the right spike for the right purpose as one does not work for all) and feeding needles that you attach to a hose. But in most cases this project can be best done by a pro, especially on larger properties. Also check what berries you have as some get spring feedings and not in the fall. And speaking of berries, blueberries love mulches of pine needles. The pine needles break down slowly but add some acidity to the soil, which this berry loves.
As you move around the property and garden, begin to collect stakes and ties that are obvious. Most can be reused, with bamboo lasting for a couple of years, hardwood stakes for two to five years and metal stakes lasting until you bend and break them.
Lots to do and that’s only the beginning of the list. In a few weeks I’ll follow up with a review of late-fall jobs and chores, but for now, plant, transplant, clean up and, of course, keep growing.
If you slept late last Sunday, October 18, you may have woken up to discover that your tender annuals and “temperennials” were limp or looking burnt. That was the morning that the East End had its first frost of the season. Areas in the Pine Barrens from Westhampton to Calverton went down to around 30 degrees and this resulted in scattered light frost. Not much, and not a technical freeze, but cold enough to finish the growing season for some of us.
Statistically, there’s only a 10 percent chance of a frost on October 18. It happened. As we get closer to the end of October there’s a 50/50 chance of frost and by November 5 there’s a 50/50 chance of a killing freeze. Are you playing the odds with some houseplants or tender plants that you hope will survive? Mother Nature may bite you.
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