This week's gardening tips from the Savvygardener.

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October 18, 2006

Acres Of Acorns...
Hmm, I guess I'll start with the weather. Drippy, chilly, wet, gray, dismal, windy - you get the picture. Not my type of weather but I suppose there are those of us out there who enjoy it. Funny how yesterday there was a bit of humidity in the air and since that cold front has passed through the ole' north wind is a howling. Brr....this is pure snuggling weather. Soup, slippers, oversized sweatshirts, a good gardening book and a roaring fire. My idea of simple relaxation - especially since I don't want to be outside.

OK, when we moved to Mission Hills we knew that there would be leaves to deal with. Our biggest surprise has been the size and quantity of acorns (photo) falling from the two large oaks on our property. If you are upstairs and the wind is blowing it actually sounds as if it is hailing outside. Just the other day a kamikaze acorn cracked Kevin's office window. You certainly want to be careful if you are standing around on the drive. A couple of acorns to the head might give you a big ole' goose egg. Oh, and did I mention how messy they are? We have been doing our best at trying to keep them picked up but it is a full time job and unfortunately there's not enough time in the day. Of course we drive over them, breaking them apart, then it rains and it becomes one big ugly mess. I am presently in the process of trying to train the thousands of squirrels that live in our neighborhood to pick them up and carry them off somewhere. You can only guess how that's going.

Stay warm and cover anything that you don't want frost bitten. It's not too late to still plant spring bulbs so if you have been putting it off like I have get out there on the next warm day and get them in the ground.

~ Shelly  

Will Potted Plants Survive?
We've had several readers ask whether potted plants can survive outdoors through the winter. This depends on so many factors. The size of the planters and the thickness of the planter material are important. If the pots are big enough to keep the soil from freezing then some cold-hardy plants will survive. The other factors include:

  • The particular winter. Mild winters will favor plants in large pots.
  • Microclimate - Sunny locations will allow the soil (and concrete) to heat up and keep the soil from freezing.

As a rule in the Kansas City area, choose plants that have a cold hardiness of at least Zone 3. Also make sure there is adequate moisture available through the winter.


Iris Clean-Up...
Iris are known for a couple of very common problems: a fungus disease known as iris leaf spot and an insect named iris borer. Though both cause problems in the spring, now is the time to start control measures. Both the fungus and eggs of the borer overwinter on old, dead leaves. Removing iris leaves and other garden debris from the iris bed this fall reduces populations of these pests. This can significantly reduce problems next spring.


Soil Rejuvenation...
Fall is the time to prepare garden soil for next spring’s vegetable garden. The spring season is often wet making it difficult to work soil without forming clods that remain the rest of the season. By contrast, fall is usually drier allowing you more time to work the soil when it is at the correct soil moisture content. Even if you work soil wet in the fall and form clods, the freezing and thawing that takes place in the winter will break them down, leaving a mellow soil the following spring.

More benefits:

  • Insects often hide in garden debris. If that debris is worked into the soil, insects will be less likely to survive the winter.
  • Diseases are also less likely to overwinter if old plants are worked under.
  • Garden debris will increase the organic matter content of the soil. Working the debris into the soil is often easier if you mow the old vegetable plants several times to reduce the size of the debris.
  • Organic matter (leaves, rotten hay or silage, grass clippings) can be more effectively added now than in the spring because there is more time for it to break down before planting.

As a general rule, add 2 inches of organic material to the surface of the soil and till it in. Be careful not to overtill. You should end up with particles like grape nuts or larger. If you work your garden into the consistency of dust, you have destroyed the soil structure.



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Evergreen Watering...
Make sure your evergreens are well watered as we ease into winter. If we go a 10-14 days without significant rain you'll want to give them a good soaking. This will go a long way to helping them survive a long cold winter.

Salvaging the Season...
As the temperatures start a free fall, many Savvygardeners find themselves with tomato plants still loaded with green or ripening fruit. The goal of course is to keep those tomatoes for as long as possible.
Here's some help.

As tomatoes cannot be stored at temperatures below 50° F. You need to find a location that is above 50° F but as close to 50° as possible. For most, this will probably be the coolest part of your basement. On the afternoon before the first freeze is forecast pick all the fruit on the plant that are full-sized (regardless of color). Discard any with severe cracks, disease spots, bruises, or that are otherwise defective. Divide them into three groups: those that are full-sized and still green, those that are showing some color, and those that are mostly red or nearly red. Plan to use the red group first. Layer the other two groups in a box or carton separated by newspapers so you can remove tomatoes without having to disturb others in the box.

As you need tomatoes, bring some from the "turning color" group to your kitchen counter for a few days to allow them to develop their full ripe color. After this group is used up, begin to use those from the mature green group. Keep your eye (and nose) out for tomatoes that are starting to rot and discard them. The newspaper will absorb juice from rotted tomatoes without damaging those nearby.


Don't Leave Those Leaves...
Those leaves that are falling all over the region are pretty but leaving lots of them on your lawn can mean trouble.  When they are dry they shade your grass from much needed fall sun.  When wet they can smother grass turning it yellow and possibly killing it.  Just keep the leaves raked up a few times per week and you should be fine.  Better yet, mow and bag them in your lawnmower and use the shredded leaves in your garden or compost pile.

Cure For The Common Crabgrass...
As you view your October lawn you may see a horrifying crop of crabgrass. Much of it has already gone to seed and the rest will soon follow. The good news is that crabgrass is an annual. The bad news is that it reseeds freely. All that stands between you and a lawn of pure crabgrass next year is pre-emergent herbicide. Be ready to apply this in April or whenever the weather indicates.


"Every novice gardener made the mistake of wanting rewards at once, and she smiled to recognize the failing in herself. But recognition didn't stop her from pursuing what she wanted."

~ Rosie Thomas

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