This week's gardening tips from the Savvygardener.

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August 9, 2006

New Tools...
I think it is too hot to even type this newsletter. I have been running errands all day and can feel the strain that the heat has put on my body. In and out, in and out of stores trying to be productive. One of my errands included buying myself a hedge trimmer. Yes indeed - pretty excited by that purchase. I am a little apprehensive I must confess. I have never had a hedge before so when it comes time to do some trimming it will be my first. Oh sure, I have pruned shrubs, trees, you name it, but to actually have an electric hedge trimmer is like, " Yikes, I hope I don't cut too much off in one area and not enough in another." It should be interesting. I'll have Kevin take pictures.

I had a good friend over for dinner the last week and I was showing her one of my only pots I planted this summer. Everything in it is completely dead. You saw it for yourself in last weeks photos. She asked me if I was embarrassed and I said no. I am like so many other gardeners who do not care this time of the year whether things live or die. It becomes a survival of the fittest if you will. After so many days at 100+ what else is there to do? I'm staying inside for now but will use my hedge trimmer soon.

~ Shelly  

Lush Lawns Are Looming...
Fall is just around the corner and there's no better time of year to renovate your lawn.  Take a hard look at your grass and decide just how much work you have ahead of you.

  • If you just need to thicken it up, a round of over-seeding will probably do the trick.  To ensure good seed to soil contact you might want to make use of a verticutter.  This handy machine, which can be rented locally, makes nice vertical cuts in your existing lawn and soil.  Over this cutting you can broadcast your seeds.  Seeds should find their way into the soil where they will germinate nicely.
  • Every other year or so you should try core aerating your lawn.  Doing so will control and prevent problems such as thatch and soil compaction.  Core aerating machines will pull up numerous plugs of soil about the diameter of a pencil, making holes into the lawn.  Leave the plugs on the surface and work the lawn as usual.
  • If your lawn is so overridden with perennial weeds or you're ready to try a new type of grass altogether you will need to eliminate what's there with Round Up or other appropriate herbicide.  Once the grass and weeds are dead use a verticutter or roto-tiller to prepare the soil for new seed.

A note about weeds - If crabgrass is appearing in your lawn in mid to late summer, remember that it's an annual and will die-off as temperatures drop later this fall.  For perennial weeds it is best to delay herbicide applications until a newly planted lawn has been mowed at least 3 times.  This gives the new grass time to mature to a point where it is not so sensitive to the weed killer.

It Smells Like What?...
Gardeners often choose flowers for their fragrance but what if the flower smells like, "...several days-old road kill on a hot, sunny day." ?  That's Virginia Tech Greenhouse Curator Debbie Wiley-Vawter's  description of Amorphophallus titanum - also known as the Corpse Plant.  The plant emits a stench to attract decaying flesh-eating beetles, flies and sweat bees for pollination. Once it blooms, the odor lingers for about eight hours, then it takes several more years before the plant has enough energy to bloom again. Ms. Wiley-Vawter's just bloomed to much attention (and presumably nose-pinching).

Curious?  Virginia Tech Biological Sciences has posted a diary (with photos) that chronicles the recent bloom cycle. You'll find lot's of interesting facts there as well.

Helpful Harvest Hints...
Vegetable harvest can be confusing - especially if you're still new at it.  Here are some quick tips to help with a few local favorites:

  • Harvest onions after the tops yellow and fall, then cure them in a warm, dry, well-ventilated area.  The necks should be free of moisture when fully cured in about a week's time.
  • Harvest potatoes after the tops yellow and die.  Potatoes also need to be cured before storage.
  • Pick beans, tomatoes, peppers and squash often to encourage further production.
  • Harvest sweet corn when kernels are plump and ooze a milky juice when punctured with your fingernail. If the liquid is watery, you're too early; if the kernels are doughy, you're too late.


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Waste Not, Want Not...
Most of us are fairly conscientious when it comes to preventing drips in our faucets and other indoor plumbing.  For some reason however we are ready to ignore dribbles and trickles in our garden hoses and spigots.  Unless those leaks are falling right where moisture is needed (not likely) it is simply a waste of water.  Depending on the rate of the leak it is entirely possible to waste hundreds of gallons of water every day.  In most cases it's a matter of simply tightening hose connections and fittings.  Applying Teflon tape to threaded connectors will stop more stubborn leaks.  It may also be time to replace that old leaky hose altogether.

Getting Ready For Winter...
While it may be August it's actually time for your trees and shrubs to start preparing for winter.  They've got some tough conditions to prepare for and it begins now.  The best thing you can do to help is lay off the fertilizer.  Fertilizing now will only stimulate late growth that won't have time to harden-off properly before winter.  Keep watering however.  You still want to keep them alive after all!  

Thump Goes The Melon...
Watermelon growers probably have some pretty big fruit by now.  You don't want to harvest your melons too early!  Just check for these tell-tale indicators of ripeness: 

  • The underside ground spot turns from whitish to creamy yellow.
  • The tendril closest to the melon turns brown and shrivels.
  • The rind loses its gloss and appears dull.
  • The melon produces a dull thud rather than a ringing sound when thumped.

Final Feeding...
Savvygardeners growing warm-season grasses like zoysia should make their last application of fertilizer this week.  Fertilizing into fall can interfere with the all important hardening-off process that prepares the grass for winter.

"If you really want to draw close to your garden, you must remember first of all that you are dealing with a being that lives and dies; like a human body, with its poor flesh, its illnesses at times repugnant. One must not always see it dressed up for a ball, manicured and immaculate."

~ Fernand Lequenne

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