2005-09-29 / News

The Island Garden

By Roger Marshall

Treat your garden plants to nutrients from leaf mold

It’s getting to be that time of year again. Summer has officially ended and we’re about to start picking up leaves. This year instead of packing your leaves off to the landfill, why not make some leaf mold? Your plants will love you for it.

All you need do is make a space for leaves — that’s it, nothing else. I make a wire framed bin. Mine is 8 feet long, 4 feet wide, and 4 feet high. Each fall, I fill it high with leaves and leave it. After a year or two, you can dig leaf mold out from the bottom of the pile. This leaf mold is the same stuff that provides nutrients for forests and trees all over the world. It’s simply rotted leaves.

If you want your leaves to rot faster, just collect them with your lawn mower provided that you have not treated your lawn with a weed killer. The high-nitrogen grass clippings provide extra nitrogen to the carbonaceous leaves, and the whole pile rots a lot faster. To use the leaf mold, scoop it out from the bottom of the pile and mix it instead of fertilizer with your potting soil to provide a nutrient boost. Not only are you saving landfill space, but you are cutting down on the use of artificial fertilizers, too.

The vegetable garden

It’s getting cooler and the vegetables are almost harvested. What are you going to do with the garden?

As soon as all the harvesting is done, sow some winter rye or clover in your garden beds. This does several things. First, it prevents the nutrients from being leached out of the soil by rain and snow.

Second, it gives you a nice green patch to look at instead of a muddy garden bed. Third, it keeps animals from depositing their waste in the beds. And fourth, when you dig the winter rye into the garden next spring, it will give your plants a good shot of highnitrogen fertilizer as the rye rots down and your new plants are growing. You can buy winter rye at Jamestown Hardware.

Fruit trees

Harvest, harvest, harvest. It’s time to reap the rewards of your spraying and pruning program.

Make sure that the tree roots are mulched for the winter and prune off any broken branches.

Soft fruit

Not a lot to do here until after the leaves drop and you can see what’s going on in the middle of the plant. Mulch to protect roots for the winter. Mulch rhubarb heavily. You might want to dig oversized root clumps out now and divide them. Just dig the root out, and use a spade to cut it in half. Replant it and the job’s done. You can start pruning the dead raspberry canes out if you wish, but this is usually a lot easier when the leaves have dropped.

Container plants Move container plants indoors right around now. If you leave them until later, you’ll find that the cold weather has made them think it is winter, and when you move them into your warm home, they’ll start to flower as the heat hits them. Flowering now weakens the plant and reduces spring flowers. By moving them indoors early, you avoid tricking them into flowering early.

Before you move any plants indoors, inspect your plants for insects. If you start this weekend, you can spray to kill off any insects. Spray again in about two weeks to kill off any eggs that might have hatched. It is far easier and safer to spray your plants outdoors than indoors.

Once the plants are indoors make sure that they are not located near a heating duct or radiator where they might get a blast of very hot air and gradually taper off the water. The most common cause of plant loss during winter is overwatering. I find that most plants need water about once a week during winter. To find out when to water simply stick you finger into the potting soil. If your finger is dry, water. If it’s damp, don’t water.

In your flower garden

If you have harvested seeds, put them in the refrigerator to give them a cold spell to help germination. If you have dahlias, tie labels around the stems to tell you what plants you have. When frost hits, the tops will turn black and you will have no idea what colors you have. Also mark where your not so hardy plants are. You might want to dig them up and bring them indoors for the winter. Putting dahlia tubers and other less than hardy plants in a cool basement or garage, where they won’t freeze, will help them grow better next year. If you have a greenhouse you can plant some dahlias in the greenhouse for color all winter long.

You might also want to order next years bulbs and get them planted. Also order your paperwhites now for some Christmas color. Plant them 6 to 8 weeks (around the middle to the end of October) before Christmas for colorful plants and their fresh scent.

In Your Greenhouse

Make sure the greenhouse is clean and ready to accept your potted plants. Clean the windows and wash the entire greenhouse with warm water into which you’ve poured some bleach. The bleach will kill off most bacteria and the germs that can cause harm to your plants.

As you move plants into the greenhouse make sure they have been sprayed and inspect the pots for cling-ons. These are the slugs, snails, larva, spider eggs, and other insects that hide under plant pot rims, and in the drain holes of outdoor plants. I spray the plants early to kill off insects and wash all the containers with a strong freshwater spray to remove clingons.

The last thing for plants going into the greenhouse is to make sure that mulches are in place and to give them a shot of liquid fertilizer. Usually this is the last fertilizer of the season, although citrus and Key lime trees should be fertilized as long as they have fruit in them. This year’s fruit seems to be a bumper crop with over forty key limes on a five foot high tree and twenty five oranges on one of the orange trees. For this gardener, “right from the grove to you,” has real meaning.

If you have a heating system in your greenhouse, check it now to ensure that it works properly when frost hits. If you have to order parts, it may take a week or two for them to arrive.

You can also buy Bubblewrap ™ and stick it to the underside of the greenhouse structure to help insulate the greenhouse when winter really hits. While greenhouse outlets sell Bubblewrap™ at fairly high prices, I’ve found that a shipping supply house sells it for about half the price. For example, a roll of 1/2 thick, 48 inches wide wrap 250 feet long can be bought from a shipping house for around $100, while a greenhouse outlet sells similar wrap 48” wide and 100 feet long for $119. Life span is 2 to 4 years and it can cut heating costs by up to 45%. You’ll need some double faced tape to hold the insulation in place, too.

You’ll also need a fan to circulate air in a closed greenhouse. Keeping air moving helps to eliminate diseases and molds in the plants and ensures a constant supply of carbon dioxide to your plants. It also makes sure that the heating in your greenhouse doesn’t stratify – that is, form layers of warm and cold air that can freeze parts of plants and leave other parts in good shape.

I rarely open the greenhouse during the depths of winter, preferring to vent warm air into my office on hot sunny days, but you may need an automatic vent opener to ensure that the greenhouse doesn’t overheat when the sun is out.

The gardening season is winding down so make sure you start now to get your garden in tip-top shape for next season. They say a housewife’s work is never done and the same might be said for a gardener. By preparing your beds properly now, you’ll get better and bigger yields next season.

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