This week's gardening tips from the Savvygardener.

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This Week's Photos, Inc.











July 25, 2007


Hill O' Weeds...
Sometimes it doesn't pay to be away. After spending two weeks away on vacation I am afraid to say that I have quite a mess of weeds on my hands. Unfortunately I did not get the opportunity to level all of the topsoil we had brought in and instead left it in a heap in the back yard. Now there is a good sized area with nothing but weeds growing in and around it (photo). It is quite an eyesore. Of course it all depends on who you ask. My sons, when asked to help weed, told me that they thought the weeds were some new flower I had planted. They were disappointed when I told them that all of those tall green plants were nothing but weeds and I would need their assistance in pulling them. You should have seen the look on their faces. They were kind enough to help me and we made quite a dent in removing the "hill o' weeds". We also worked together to tidy up the patio, mow the lawn and water the plants. Truth be known I think they enjoy helping and feel the same sense of accomplishment that I feel once we've finished. I love raising a new generation of gardeners!

I am in that horrible place in my gardening life. It is too hot to be outside planting so I am just maintaining everything. Watering due to the lack of rain, pulling weeds and mowing when needed. This time of the year is always hard for me. I am starting to dislike the way my annuals are looking and I am becoming anxious for a new season which means change in the garden. I am ready for cooler temperatures, pansies, mums, sedum and other fall blooming plants. I am always rushing from one season to the next - ready to move on. Am I alone?

~ Shelly  

Shrooms and Stuff...
We returned from vacation to find our mulched beds full of mushrooms and a particularly disgusting slime mold (photos). Where did these things come from? Mushrooms, often called "toadstools," are specialized types of fungi, and can be admired for their beauty and the fantastic variety of form, color, and texture. They grow in a variety of habitats, and generally are important as decay microorganisms, aiding in the breakdown of logs, leaves, fallen branches, and other organic debris. This important role of mushrooms results in recycling of essential nutrients. In the majority of cases these fungi are not parasitic to lawns or gardens and won't cause any disease problems. Please resist the temptation to eat them. Many varieties of mushroom are highly poisonous and should be consumed only when absolutely certain of their safety.

Lots Of Leaf Drop...
In addition to the mushrooms mentioned above, we returned from vacation to also find a good deal of fallen leaves around the yard and garden. In most cases this is nothing to panic about.  Trees will often set more leaves in the spring than they can support during the summer. Heat and drought stress will cause trees to lose leaves that they cannot support with available soil moisture. This year's leaf drop is likely worse than usual because excess rains in certain areas weakened the trees’ root systems. Now that we are drying out and warming up, that weakened root system can no longer keep up with the moisture demands of the foliage and tree drops leaves to compensate. In fact, excess soil moisture itself can cause leaf drop because waterlogged root systems can’t take up water and transport it due to a lack of oxygen.


Bitter Cucumbers?
A bitter taste in cucumbers is the result of stress that can be caused by a number of factors, including heredity, moisture, temperature, soil characteristics and disease. Most often this occurs during the hot part of the summer or later in the growing season.

Two compounds, cucurbitacins B and C, give rise to the bitter taste. Though often only the stem end is affected, at times the entire fruit is bitter. Also, most of the bitter taste is found in and just under the skin. Bitter fruit is not the result of cucumbers cross-pollinating with squash or melons. These plants cannot cross-pollinate with one another.

Often newer varieties are less likely to become bitter than older ones. Proper cultural care is also often helpful. Make sure your plants have the following:

  • Well-drained soil with a pH between 6.0 and 6.5.
  • Plenty of organic matter also helps.
  • Mulch helps conserve moisture and keep roots cool during hot, dry weather.
  • Adequate water especially during the fruiting season.
  • Disease and insect control.


Revitalize Herbs...
If your basil and thyme look like they need an extreme makeover you can revitalize them by cutting them back severely. This will stimulate a clean new flush of growth, free of any insect and disease damage incurred since spring.

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.

The Cutting Gardener...
When gardens are blooming the way they have been lately it's a shame not to spread the beauty around.  How?  By bringing some of it inside! Before you try it yourself there are some procedures to follow if you really want to do it right:

  • Start when flower stems are full of water - either early morning (6 to 8 AM) or late evening (7 to 9 PM).
  • Carry a clean bucket filled with very warm (100 to 120º F) water.
  • Always use sharp, very clean scissors or pruners when cutting. 
  • Immediately place any cut flowers in the bucket of warm water.
  • When you bring the flowers in, re-cut each flower under water.  This pulls water into the stems more quickly.  Flowers that are not re-cut immediately after picking can lose up to 60% of their vase life.
  • Place the bucket of re-cut flowers in a cool area, such as the basement and allow them to hydrate or harden for at least one hour (although overnight is best).
  • Arrange, display, enjoy!


Bulbs That Bloom In Autumn...
The savviest of Savvygardeners know that there are a number of autumn-blooming bulbs that really perk up the fall garden and landscape.  Autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale) also known as meadow saffron, mysteria, or naked boys produces pink to lavender crocus-like flowers in the fall and there is no foliage present when the plants are in bloom.  Dark green leaves will emerge in the spring, remain until summer, then turn yellow and die to the ground.  After which, the flowers magically appear in the fall again.

Colchicums should be planted immediately after purchase or delivery in August or September or they will start to bloom in their packaging.  Plant the corms in clumps, 2-3 inches deep in well-drained soil in full sun to partial shade.  Pretty!

Too Tall Turf?
If you've been away on vacation and your lawn is extra tall be careful about cutting too much at once.  As a rule you should cut no more than one-third of the grass height at a time. If necessary, try setting your mower height to the highest setting for a first cutting.  Then wait two-three days and cut again at a reduced height.

"Many things grow in the garden that were never sowed there."

~ Thomas Fuller

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