This is the perfect time to test your soil pH. Inexpensive kits like this one cost about $10 for ten tests. Remember to test several spots in your lawn, your vegetable garden and your landscape beds. ANDREW MESSINGER
At the end of the gardening season it’s critical to clean and inspect any garden sprayers you have. Flush the tank, clean and clear the nozzle, then put water in the tank and pressurize to listen and watch for leaks. The smaller sprayer on the right has nearly invisible marks for liquid level guides. Make your own with a permanent marker or label maker. ANDREW MESSINGER
When cleaning your sprayer, make sure to rinse and clean the fill port. Dirt and debris like that seen here easily enter the tank when you fill it and end up clogging the nozzle and nozzle ports. ANDREW MESSINGER
Pruning equipment like this Felco #2 hand pruner (the Hampton Gardener’s favorite) should be checked for repairs and worn parts. The most basic parts are the blade (right) and the spring (bottom) but you should also have a sharpening tool (left) and keep your blade sharp at all times. Keep a spare blade; they always come in handy. ANDREW MESSINGER
Take a five-minute break. Go outside to a place on your property where you can sit and see a panorama of your property. Take a pad with you or an electronic device that will allow you to make a list. What needs to be done in the next 60 days to get ready for winter and next spring? What needs to be finished by late November? You can prioritize the list later, but making the list can be very helpful come January when you wonder “Did I (fill in the blank) back in October?” It’s time.
The long-range weather forecast for last summer was fairly on target. As predicted, it was wet and warm. As of last week, the winter outlook is for early frost, early snow and an overall colder and snowier winter than in the past many years. We shall see.
Add soil testing to your to-do list if you haven’t in the past two or three years. While not totally accurate, inexpensive home tests are good enough to give you an idea of how your soil pH is. Don’t obsess over nutrient analysis. If your pH is too low or too high, the available nutrients in the soil can be irrelevant. Test lawn soil, vegetable garden soil and landscape bed soils.
Long Island soils tend to be slightly acidic, and most will have a pH of 6.2 to 7. One kit that will do 10 tests costs about $10. Each test will take just a few minutes. You can get more information on Long Island soils and how to interpret your soil test by looking up “Long Island Pocket Guide to Landscape Soil Health.” It’s a great resource for understanding our local soils and how to take care of them.
It’s late, but not too late to do some patch work on your lawn. Seeding done in early September had perfect weather for germination and by the end of the month nearly all the spots patched had filled in quite well. Don’t wait much longer, though. Late-germinating seed will have a harder time overwintering.
If you have any kind of garden sprayer, be it a hose-end sprayer, small tank sprayer or something larger, you need to winterize it. First, wash and rinse it thoroughly. Pressurize it and let the clean water run through it. Next, take it apart. For pump sprayers, take the piston out of the tank, take the nozzle end off the spray hose. Make sure the tank is clean with no debris in it. Carefully clean around the fill port or neck of the sprayer removing any debris and dirt. Flush the nozzle with clear water, making sure it’s clear.
Some sprayers also have a dual port where the liquid exits the spray hose then enters the chamber of the nozzle. Look carefully and you’ll see the two holes. Make sure these are clear and not clogged with small particles. When everything seems clean, put it all back together again, put some fresh water in and pressurize the sprayer and let the water go through the entire sprayer one more time. When the pressure has built up, listen for leaking air or water. Tighten any loose fittings and connections. Release the pressure, empty the sprayer, drain the hose and allow everything to dry before reassembling and storing.
This is also a good time to add some “fill” marks on the sprayer. These marks are usually embossed on the tank sides but are rarely legible because the measurements are the same color as the tank. Use a permanent marker to highlight these marks or use a label maker to indicate certain fill levels. On smaller tanks, I like to see the 16- and 32-ounce levels. On larger tanks, each gallon level should be marked as well.
Also mark your sprayer if it’s for herbicide or insecticide use — in BIG BLOCK LETTERS. This avoids some very embarrassing and destructive mistakes during the gardening season. Yes, it is expensive to have to buy two sprayers. But it’s much more expensive to replace the plants that have herbicide residue sprayed on them when you had intended to apply something like neem oil. And yes, this does happen and much too often.
Repair any damaged water hoses that may have leaks, broken ends or have been accidentally introduced to the blade of a mower or the string of a trimmer. When buying repair parts, either bring a sample of the hose with you or know both the inside diameter of the hose as well as the outside diameter of the “jacket” or covering. Metal repair parts are preferred to plastic ones. Hoses should be drained and stored when you’re finished with them.
Please, please, please leave the leaves when they fall. Mow them, compost them, bank them for use as mulch when the ground gets really cold but make every effort to use them at home since they’re an incredible resource. Remember that oak leaves need more shredding than maple leaves and when you have both they break down best when shredded or mulched together.
And speaking of compost: Every single gardener should have a compost operation be it a simple kitchen composter, a small outdoor composter or a full-scale, well-maintained compost pile. My property is just an acre and I compost like it’s gold. It is. Every year I get 2 to 3 cubic yards of compost from material that goes through my shredder and is then composted. A few times a year I also add clippings from the lawn. It’s hard mowing with a clipping bag instead of the mower discharge set to “mulch” but the added clippings give the compost a nitrogen component that’s critical for great “cooking.”
Pruners, especially our constantly used hand pruners, need maintenance at this time of the year and again at the end of the season. I’m partial to the Corona pruners, and while they run close to $60 or more, you can get replacement parts and one pruner can last for years when it’s taken care of. The most basic parts you should replace are the cutting blade and the spring. Make sure you get the right parts for the right pruner, though. You can also buy a sharpening stone and with a little practice, a dull blade can be made sharp in just a few minutes.
It’s also important to keep your blade and pruner clean. I spray the blade with WD-40 and let it sit for a minute. I then use a paper towel to remove the built-up gunk and any left behind residue. When pruning fruit trees, cleaning often is critical to reducing the spread of disease organisms.
As it gets cooler and the deer find less and less to feed on next door, it’ll be time to begin applying deer repellents. It’s critical to rotate the repellents you use, and be wary of sprays that say they’re good for three months or longer. Find two or three brands that are recommended by friends, landscapers or garden centers and begin applying as soon as signs of deer droppings or browse damage show up.
Take pictures. Take lots and lots of pictures. These will be your view into the history of your gardens and these pictures can be so very helpful in knowing what was where and how it did in any given year. Notes can be added to these pictures in some programs and operating systems and there are ways of keeping these pictures organized and archived.
When you’re finished for the season with any gas-powered equipment, drain the fuel system, turn the fuel valve to the off position and let the machine run till it’s out of gas. Alternatively, you can add a fuel stabilizer (such as Sta-bil 360) to the fuel tank and let the engine run for five minutes. If this is done you don’t need to drain the fuel and the machine should start right up in the spring.
Check your equipment for new blades, new spark plugs, new wheels and oil and/or air filters. Order them now so you can get them on this fall or when you’re ready next spring. Wait until spring and these parts may be unavailable, and even if ordered now they may be stuck in the grand supply chain.
Remember that our garden nemesis, the voles, will continue to feed on perennial roots and crowns and newly plants lily bulbs right through the winter. Set those mouse traps baited with apple and peanut butter and continue to set and check them several times a week even if you get no catches.
This is not the time to procrastinate with your valuable tools and your gardens. The days are ticking away and it’s easy to get distracted. Keep your fall work list updated, enjoy the great weather, and of course, keep growing.
One fine body…