The Island Garden
the winter or do you start lettuce, spinach, and Chinese greens?
By now you’ve probably harvested most of your crops. The corn is dying back, the potatoes are dug, tomatoes, peppers and eggplants will last until the first frost, but everything else is winding down. At least that is unless you subscribe to the school of gardening that pushes the seasons hard. If you want to be a member of this school, you can plant spinach and lettuce right now, you can also try Chinese greens such as Pak Choi, Joi Choi, mizuna, tatsoi, and mustard greens. From now until the first frost is about six to eight weeks, so you have time for fast growing plants. Growing lots of spinach has a double reward. If you don’t harvest all your spinach this fall, leave it in the ground over winter, mulch it, and harvest fresh leaves early next spring before the plant goes to seed.
Remember to plant garlic ready for next summer. Just push a single glove into the ground, blunt end down. Space the cloves 6 to 8 inches apart. Cover the garlic bed with a mulch of grass clippings, and that’s it, job done!
If you invest in glass cloches, a cold frame or just a spun fleece, you’ll find that you can push the season for an extra couple of weeks. I have found that under a fleece the temperature is about 5 degrees warmer than without it so that helps to make the season last another couple of weeks. If you grow in a greenhouse and put a fleece over your plants, you can be harvesting greens well into January. Of course, you’ll be able to start you new seedlings in March, too.
There’s another advantage to growing at this time of year as well. That is the cost of seeds. Most stores are clearing out their shelves for winter and have cut the price of seeds in half or more. With seed costs so cheap it makes sense to try growing fall crops. Plus, insect infestations are dying back so you can harvest greens without caterpillar holes.
Of course, if you don’t want to grow a fall crop, all you need do is sprinkle winter rye over your growing beds and leave them for the winter. That’s it, you’re done! Next spring dig over the winter rye to turn the nutrients back into the soil read for another season.
Another thing you might want to do is to get some artichoke seeds right now. You’ll want to plant them up indoors in January so that you can set the plants out in mid to late March. That will give them about six weeks of cold weather and trick the plants into setting fruit that season.
Harvest fruit as needed, prune out dead branches and any water sprouts, make sure that mulch is pulled back from the tree trunk as mice can get into the mulch and gnaw on your tree. Save the pruned branches for starting a fire this fall. Apple or cherry kindling smells so good.
With last weeks rain, lawns are starting to green up again. Look for winter fertilizer on sale and spread it on the lawn. It will help the grass send out new stolons (shoots) for a better lawn next season. If you have bare patches wait for another couple of weeks before seeding them. Weeds will die back and your grass seeds will have a better chance of survival.
Deadhead flowers, check for spots where plants have died back so that you can fill those areas for next season. Trim taller plants that may have fallen over. Replace mulch as needed. Trim sprawling plants to keep flower beds neat. Make sure that you have ordered your bulbs for your spring garden. Tulips, daffodils, narcissi, squill, and other bulbs should be purchased now so that you can plant them in your garden this fall. While daffodils tend to be deer proof, tulips provide a great meal so don’t put them where deer can eat them.
This time of year you might also want to start cuttings to increase your stock for next year. Perennials such as geraniums, pelargonia, fuschia, and monarda (bee balm) can easily be started by cutting the tips of existing plants, dipping the ends in rooting hormone and setting into small pots. You’ll need to keep them in a warm greenhouse or window for the winter, but next season you’ll have lots more plants. You can also increase your stock of chrysanthemums by taking root cuttings now and potting them up. Just dig around the edge of your geraniums and take a 2to 3-inch length of root with a growing tip. Put it in a pot and keep it watered. When you are propagating, remember the garden club’s annual plant sale next May and pot up a few extra for them, too.