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Tips for Fall Transplanting



Now is a good time to divide and transplant some of your perennials. I recently dug up and moved Shasta daisies, Siberian iris and snakeroot (Cimicifuga spp). Most perennials can be divided in either spring or fall, and experience is the best way to know what season is best for any given plant. Most plants are not too fussy.

 

Shasta daisies in need of division

Shasta daisies tend to die out if they are not divided every 3 to 5 years. And you probably have seen iris with a big dead section in the middle of a clump. It’s my belief that the center dies out because the plants have used up all the needed minerals in the soil. This starts in the middle where the original plant began its life.

 

Why bother digging up and dividing flowers? Some develop into huge clumps that overwhelm a garden bed, or elbow out nice plants next to them. This is particularly true for plants that spread by root like beebalm (Monarda didyma), common orange daylilies and obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana). Those plants can be quite aggressive.

 

Other plants, heavy-feeders, need to be divided in order to enrich their soil. Once a year I generally sprinkle some slow-release organic fertilizer like Pro-Gro or Garden Tone over Siberian iris to help replenish minerals that get used up. This minimizes the need to divide and re-plant. But digging up and adding compost and fertilizer will help considerably to re-energize a plant.

 

Slide a fork under the plants and lift

Here is what I do: I use a garden fork or drain spade (an extra-long spade) to loosen up the roots of a plant by sliding it in under the plant at a 45 degree angle and prying upward. Some plants – daylilies and Siberian iris, for example, hold on tightly. Others, like Shasta daisies and bearded iris have roots near the soil surface and come up easily. You may have to go all around the perimeter with your fork, or just on 2 sides.

 

I lift the plant out of the ground and place it in a wheelbarrow or on a tarp to minimize soil loss and messiness. Then I use my hands, a shovel or a sharp serrated knife to divide the plant. I like to just split it into several smaller chunks with my hands if possible. But a big chunk of Siberian iris will not pull apart, so cutting through the roots is necessary. I know that seems brutal, but the plant will survive nicely.

 

If you have invasive weeds or perennials growing near the plant you are dividing, you should be very attentive to the roots. Know the color and texture of goutweed roots, for example. If you see even a smidgen of goutweed root in with the plant you are dividing, STOP! You don’t want to move it to a new area of your garden.

 

If you are receiving plants from friends, always ask if they have invasives. I got goutweed from a dear friend who kindly gave me some iris – with goutweed roots mixed in. Twenty years later I am still fighting a losing battle with that goutweed.

 

Bare rooted plant

If you think there might be roots of an invasive plant, either throw it out or bare-root it. Bare-rooting a plant means removing all the soil from the root mass. I do this with a sharp stream of water from my hose. It’s a messy procedure, but getting rid of the soil will allow you to see what roots are part of the plant you want, and what else may be mixed in. Most invasives have distinctive roots.

 

When you bare-root a plant it is important, when re-planting it, to make sure you get soil to cover all the roots. I will make a hill of soil in the planting hole and drape the roots over it. With my fingers I press soil around the roots, and cover them well. Then I water to get soil to fill in air pockets. Even though air is needed by roots, air pockets will dry out roots, damaging them.

 

After your plants are lovingly tucked in for the winter, spread some mulch over them. This will slow the soil from freezing, and give the plant more time to establish its roots. I like chopped leaves or pine needles, but chopped bark mulch is fine, too.

 

When you are cleaning up your flower beds this fall, think about cutting back annual flowers instead of pulling them. If you pull a big sunflower or zinnia, you are leaving an open space that will practically invite weed seeds to infiltrate your garden. If you leave the roots and a little stem, those may decompose over the fall and spring and add organic matter to your soil. And if your flower bed is on a slope, even a gentle one, a bare spot of soil will allow heavy rains to wash off some of your precious topsoil. You can pull those roots when you are ready to plant next spring.

 

This is also a good time to dig up and get rid of plants that you don’t like, are too aggressive, or are just not thriving. You don’t have to keep every plant. If you don’t like it, get rid of it!

 

Cold weather is on the way, so if you need to divide plants, you’d better get going!

 

You may reach Henry at henry.homeyer@comcast.net or by mail at PO Box 364, Cornish Flat, NH 93746. Please include a SASE if you want a response by mail.

 

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How to Minimize Garden Pest and Disease Problems Next Year



As an organic gardener, I am always looking for ways to minimize the chances of pests or diseases in my garden. I don’t use fungicides or insecticides, even those that are all-natural and are approved for use by organic farmers and gardeners. I want it all: tasty veggies and healthy plants – but no interventions. And generally, I get that.

 

How do I avoid pests and diseases? Give plants what they need for optimal growth. Plants growing in great soil with appropriate amounts of sun and moisture are generally healthy plants. It has been scientifically proven that healthy plants are less attractive to pests and diseases.

 

A corn plant that is pumped up with chemical fertilizer, for example, is more attractive to corn borers than one has been raised organically and had its soil amended with manure.

 

Organic Corn from my Garden

I attended a lecture by Dr. Larry Phelan of Ohio State University in which he presented results of trials comparing conventional corn with organic corn. His data was convincing. Yes, chemical fertilizers can produce big yields, but excess nitrogen from chemical fertilizers will attract borers.

 

Then there is the problem of tomato hornworms. These nasty, aggressive critters are a real problem for some gardeners, but I have not seen one in my tomato patch in years. Why? I’m not sure, but the last time I saw one, it was being parasitized by small wasps.

 

If you see what look like grains of rice on a tomato hornworm, they are being attacked by a braconid wasp. The “rice” grains are larvae that are slowly sucking the hornworm dry. If you see this happening, don’t kill the hornworm. Just remove it (wearing gloves) and carry it far from the tomatoes. The larvae will do the rest.

 

How can you encourage parasitic wasps to live in your garden? First, do not kill them – though they are not very noticeable. And do not use chemicals to kill other pests such as Japanese beetles or potato bugs.

 

A home for solitary wasps

I have a small “home” for solitary wasps attached to my barn. It is a box filled with bamboo tubes of different sizes, their ends facing out. These tubes offer shelter for insects and places where they can lay eggs or stay out of danger. I don’t see it used much, but I know that solitary wasps do need such places. Nature offers the best places, I’m sure, so if I don’t rake and manicure every inch of my property. A naturalistic setting offers many sites for good bugs. Mother Nature, left to her own devices, tends to have a balance of good critters and bad. I try not to second guess her too often.

 

But what about introduced species that are a problem with our crops? They can easily cause damage and get out of control. One such pest is the spotted winged drosophila (SWD), an Asian fruit fly that arrived in 2011. Instead of just eating overly ripe fruit laying on the ground (as most native species do), this one will attack good fruit on the bush. Mushy fruit (complete with bugs) is the result. Blueberries have been severely affected in some places.

 

I recently phoned Dr. Alan Eaton, the state entomologist for New Hampshire, to see if any progress has been made in controlling this pest. No, he explained, they are still in the learning phase at present. Early reports had suggested that early-ripening crops of blueberries and strawberries were less susceptible to SWD. But he told me that this year they were finding earlier and earlier reports of damage. And this year they had reports of SWD on cherries for the first time.

 

These fruit pests are just one twelfth of an inch in size, so netting (always a friend to organic gardeners) musts be very fine to keep them off our crops. Most commercial growers are resorting to chemical sprays. Me? I’m rooting for the birds and other insects to take charge.

 

It is important to clean up under you apple trees

So what can you do to reduce chances of pest and disease problems next year? Clean up your garden well this fall. Apple scab, for example, causes deformed, inedible fruit. The disease can be minimized by simply raking up leaves and fruit- right now. This year I took it a step farther and used a pole to knock off any apples left on the tree, and raked them up, too. Many of those left on the tree were clearly rotten. I’ve read that spreading compost under apple trees introduces beneficial microorganisms and may help control diseases, too.

 

According to Dr. Eaton, destroying vines and leaves of plants in the squash family – cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, melons etc. – is important at this time of year. Striped cucumber beetles over-winter in plant debris, so getting your garden clean is important. I put vine and tomato plants on my brush pile and burn it once snow has fallen, but you can also bag it and send it off with household trash. Composting is not usually an effective way of ridding your garden of these pests.

 

Remember: well-tended plants are less susceptible to diseases and less attractive to pests. I am always amazed at how healthy my garden is despite – or because – I use no chemicals – and have always used organic methods. It takes a while to develop a good supply of beneficial insects, I suppose, but get started!

 

Henry is a UNH Master Gardener and the author of 4 gardening books. He is available to give talks at garden clubs and libraries. Reach him at henry.homeyer@comcast.net or P.O. Box 364, Cornish Flat, NH 03746.

 

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How to Eat From Your Garden All Year



This was a good gardening year. Adequate rain, adequate sun. I know that I will have food from the vegetable garden that will allow me to eat something from it every day all year. Eating something every day from my garden is a bit of an obsession, but not all that hard to do. I am putting my root crops away for the winter now, and drying herbs.

 

My best crop this year was potatoes. In a 30-inch wide (double) row that was nearly 50 feet long I harvested about 125 pounds of potatoes including 5 different varieties. I had no potato beetles even though I used no pesticides, not even the organic Bt bacterial spray. My tip for doing so? Plant late. By mid-June potato beetles have started eating something, somewhere else. Maybe they were munching my neighbors’ potatoes, I don’t know.

 

When researching a book project in 2002 I drove around the country visiting farms and talking to farmers. In Idaho I worked for 3 weeks as a farm hand on an organic farm that grew potatoes, among other things.

 

Potato harvest 2017

I learned that potatoes need to be stored in a cool environment with high humidity. Commercially that meant storing them right at 50 degrees. At cooler temperatures some of the starches are converted to sugars. That would mean that French fries – America’s favorite potato product – would tend to darken up too much. I don’t make fries, and store my potatoes in a cold basement where they stay between 33 and 50 degrees. They’re very sweet.

 

Before I store my potatoes I harden them off outside for a few days. I place them on my north-facing deck where they get a good breeze, but not too much sun. I roll them over once a day so that all sides face up for a while.

 

If you don’t have a cold basement, get a spare fridge. These are often offered for sale used at $100 or less – and over the years I have gotten a couple free. They will keep root crops cool and keep mice from nibbling the harvest. If you keep it in the garage it will never run all winter, though you may need to add some heat inside it in January. A seed-starting heat mat will provide low heat for just a few pennies a week. Keep a thermometer inside it to monitor the temperature.

 

What else will store well in a fridge? Beets, carrots, rutabagas, kohlrabi and celeriac. Leeks should store well, but don’t. Those I clean, cut up, pack in zipper bags and freeze. Carrots will store well in the ground, but are targets for mice, so I pull them now.

 

Dried foods last all year, too. I dry tomatoes, herbs, apples, pears, berries and hot peppers. Cherry tomatoes, cut in half, are easy to dry and add great flavor to soups, stews and stir fries. Hot peppers I grind in the coffee grinder so that I can add just a little pepper powder to spice up a dish gently.

 

Excalibur dryer

Any type of dehydrator will work fine, but the two I like best are the Excalibur and the NESCO American Harvester. The Excalibur is more efficient, but also more expensive to buy.

 

A cool dry location is good for storing garlic, onions and winter squash. Winter squash like Waltham butternuts and blue Hubbards will store until next summer under the right conditions. A cold spare bedroom is a good spot – 50 degrees is great. Some kinds of onions store better than others. Yellow onions store well, but start to sprout by spring. Then I use my frozen leeks to substitute for onions in cooked dishes.

 

Freezing garden produce is good, but a bit time consuming. The easiest vegetables to freeze are tomatoes because they’re so easy to freeze. I just put clean tomatoes in a zipper bag and freeze whole, removing them to use in soups and stews like canned tomatoes. And running hot water over a frozen tomatoes will separate the skin from the flesh in just a moment.

 

Blue hubbard squash with Waltham butternut squash

Most vegetables need to be briefly boiled before freezing – a minute or less. That is called blanching. But tomatoes, leeks, berries and peppers do not require blanching. Some gardeners blanch kale, while others do not. Blanching kills aging enzymes in food, so if you are going to eat frozen vegetables within 3 months it probably is not needed. But if you want to eat kale, beans, broccoli or summer squash 6 months from when you picked it, blanching is recommended.

 

One last word on freezing. I recently read a paper from University of California at Davis that explained that I could freeze garlic. Just separate the cloves, put in a freezer bag and freeze. I’ve never done that, but I will try that this year as garlic tends to dry out or sprout after a few months. I have also dehydrated garlic and ground it into a powder.

 

However you store your food, having something from the garden to eat during a February blizzard will bring a smile to your face- or at least it does from me.

 

Read Henry’s blog posts at https://dailyuv.com/gardeningguy You may reach him at henry.homeyer@comcast.net or PO Box 364, Cornish Flat, NH 03746.

 

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Life After Frost: Gardening Is Not Over



Frost was late this year. It was nearly mid-October before we had a hard frost, one that murdered the zinnias and blackened the basil. For me, hard frost is a day to mourn a little, to spend a few moments missing the summer that passed, for the tomatoes that brought me such great pleasure and the flowers that graced my table.

 

But autumn is grand, too. I still have plenty of garden veggies to harvest and process, and those fall days full of sun and a few monarchs are full of surprises and delights.

 

Common witch hazel

I’m always delighted by plants that bloom now –especially woody plants. I have two witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) that bloom subtly each fall. The blossoms are not obvious because they are small, yellow, and their leaves are yellow (and green) and have not yet fallen. But those curly blossoms will persist even after the leaves have dropped. Witch hazel is a native tree that lives in shade or part shade. It’s a small tree or a shrub, depending on the variety. It blooms either now, or in very early spring.

 

Another interesting shrub in bloom now is disanthus (Disanthus cercidifolius). Although most books describe the flowers as “insignificant”, I disagree. They are small – just half in inch across, and close to the stem – but they are in pairs, back to back, each like a small purple starfish. I‘ve had my disanthus for 4 years, and this is the first time it has bloomed, or at least the first time I have seen it bloom. So I yelped with excitement when I first saw the blossoms.

 

Disanthus flower

The best thing about disanthus is the leaf color. The leaves are deep red and purple, and have been so for many weeks. The color is better than that of the now prohibited invasive, burning bush (Euonymus alatus). But unlike burning bush, disanthus doesn’t litter the countryside with babies like a stray, unspayed dog. It stays in one place, and grows slowly to a 6 to 10 foot height and width.

 

In the flower garden my fall asters are about done, but I still have one Rudbekia or black-eyed Susan looking great. It is Rudbeckia subtomentosa, a variety called ‘Henry Eiler’. It’s taller than I am. Its petals are very delicate and are spaced apart in an airy fashion. The stems of this plant are quite thick, but not thick enough to stand up to fall winds without staking.

 

Grasses are nice now, too. They generally bloom in fall, producing subtle green flowers that most people don’t recognize as flowers. My favorite grass is a Chinese feather grass (Miscanthus sinensis), a variety called ‘Morning Light’. The leaves have a central white stripe and each stem stands up 4 to 6 feet, or even more. This grass will look good all winter waving above the snow.

 

Each stem of feather grass has 20 or so thin strands of flowers that will produce seeds. This plant does not reproduce from seed, however. The clump gets bigger each year, and can be divided to create more plants. I’ve read that the time to divide it is in the spring, not now.

 

The milkweed plants I started from seed this year stayed small and did not flower. But I will harvest some seeds elsewhere and plant some more. The seeds need a cold period before they will germinate, so planting outside now makes sense. Last spring I planted seeds in flats indoors, then put them in the fridge for 6 weeks before they would grow. The red milkweed I planted the year before did great this year, blooming and attracting pollinators. I will plant some of their seeds when I see the pods are ripe and ready to burst open.

 

Henry Eiler Rudbeckia

I’ve cut down some of my perennials, and pretty much all are ready for the knife or shears. I’ll leave things with stiff stems and interesting seed pods for winter viewing and as food for the birds. But the more I can do now, the better. One landscaper told me she figured that every hour of fall clean up reduces spring work by three hours.

 

One of my last tasks each year is to run over the lawn with my lawnmower, chopping leaves into perfect mulch. I rake it onto a tarp and pull the tarp to my vegetable garden where I spread the leaves over the by-then weeded beds. It keeps weed seeds from germinating in the spring, and adds organic matter to the soil as it breaks down and is eaten by earthworms.

 

My gardening friend and fellow garden-book writer Sydney Eddison of Connecticut always saves her chopped fall leaves in contractor bags and uses them in the spring on her flowers. I have filled up 6 huge plastic bags with grass clippings and leaves another friend gave me, and have stored them in the barn for use in the spring. Sydney Eddison has the best soil I’ve ever seen after mulching with chopped leaves for 40 years or so.

 

Don’t forget to plant your spring bulbs now, too. You can plant into November, but it will be cold by then, so get going!

 

Read Henry’s blog at https://dailyuv.com/gardeningguy Youi may reach him at henry.homeyer@comcast.net and see his web site at www.Gardening-Guy.com

 

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Planting Garlic



Growing garlic involves less work than anything else I grow. There really are only 3 steps: plant it, mulch it, and harvest it. It’s also the least expensive, once you have an established bed of garlic. I will plant this year’s crop from last year’s crop, and that one I planted from the crop of the year before. You really only have to buy garlic once – so long as you save some each year for planting.

 

There are basically just two kinds of garlic: soft neck garlic, which is what you probably get at your grocery store, and the stuff we grow here in the Northeast called hard neck garlic. Most soft neck garlic comes from California and keeps nearly forever. Hardneck garlic has a stiff stem in the middle of each bulb, and has a much more complex flavor (in my opinion). It will keep in a cool place until spring, but not much longer. Then it either sprouts or dries up.

 

Planting Garlic

October is the time to plant garlic. If you don’t have any seed garlic, you might be able to get some at your farmers market. Don’t plant grocery store garlic, even if you can find hard neck garlic, because it is often treated so that it will not sprout. By now most catalog-sellers of garlic have sold out.

 

Take a bulb (or head) of garlic and separate it into the cloves that surround the hard “neck” or flower scape. Depending on the variety of garlic, you might have just five cloves, or as many as a dozen. I like big cloves, as they are easier to peel and use. So each year I select for big cloves and plant them. Over the years my crop has produced bigger bulbs and bigger cloves.

 

Garlic needs full sun (defined as 6 hours of sun) and rich soil. I always add compost to my garlic bed and some organic bagged fertilizer. I rake soil from the walkways into a raised bed that is perhaps 30 inches wide and six inches higher than my walkways. Ideally, by adding compost, your soil will be rich and fluffy.

 

To plant, I draw furrows about 8 inches apart with my CobraHead weeder, a single-tined tool that is curved like a bent finger. I loosen the soil about 6 inches deep withit, than push cloves into the soil so that they are 3 inches apart and about 3 inches deep. Always plant them with the pointy end up. Afterwards I pat the soil down with my hands to firm the soil.

 

The last step is to mulch your garlic. I use mulch hay or straw and put almost a foot of fluffy material over the bed. Fall rains and winter snows will cause the hay to settle – I end up with about 4 to 6 inches of material in the spring.

 

Garlic Mulch

The mulch keeps the soil from freezing until January, allowing roots to get well established before the garlic cloves go dormant. It also prevents most weeds from germinating and growing next year, though I weed the bed before planting. Garlic is tough stuff and will push right through my layer of mulch, though most weeds do not.

 

Depending on the weather and when you plant, your garlic may send up green stalks this fall. Don’t fret if it does. Those sprouts will die back in winter, but the garlic will send up new ones in the spring.

 

Garlic Scapes

In early summer the scape, or flower stalk, will perform for you, “dancing” to create loops, swoops and circles of green. I use these in flower arrangements. Each scape produces a flower on top of the scape that will, if left, produce seeds. Those seeds are not useful for the average gardener, as they will not produce edible garlic for 2 years. But the stems and flowers are great for early summer stir fries. Garlic scapes are a taste treat.

 

Some believe that cutting off the scapes early on will produce bigger cloves of garlic, but I have never been able to tell if that is true or not, though it makes sense. Producing flowers and seeds uses energy that might otherwise go to producing bigger bulbs.

 

Next July the garlic you planted this year will be ready to harvest. Each bulb grows about 7 long pointy leaves that also surround the cloves and protects them. When 3 or 4 leaves have turned brown and started to dry up, it’s time to harvest. If you wait too long, all the leaves will have dried up and the garlic will not store as well – it will dry out too soon.

 

I’ve been told that after harvesting that garlic should be cured in a cool shady place for a week or two before you cut off the tops. Why? Because nutrients in the leaves – some of which are allegedly good for preventing cancer – will migrate to the bulbs and be absorbed.

 

You can store garlic best in a cool, dry place. Ideally 50 degrees with moderate humidity. I recently read an article produced at the University of California at Davis that you can freeze garlic instead of storing it at room temperature. Separate the cloves, but don’t peel them. You can freeze them in a zipper bag or jar for a year or more. I shall try that. Don’t store garlic at room temperature in oil, as it can produce deadly botulism.

 

Garlic may or may not repel vampires and viruses. I do know it makes food taste better, and is full of vitamins and minerals. So I grow it, and you should, too.

 

You can reach Henry at henry.homeyer@comcast.net. Read his blogs at https://dailyuv.com/gardeningguy.

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