2011-09-15 / Editorial

The Island Garden

Putting the garden to bed

September’s here, leaves are falling – although that’s mostly because of Irene – and the mornings are getting later and cooler. Fortunately, we live close to the ocean and water temperatures are in the mid-to-high 60s, which ameliorates an autumnal drop in temperature. In the garden it’s time to think about cleaning up and getting ready for next season.

First check the vegetable beds. Have you dug all the potatoes, carrots, onions and other goodies that might be hiding in the soil? If not, you may find new plants coming up where you did not expect them next summer. If you have bare patches, now is the time to sow winter rye to prevent nutrient runoff over the winter.

Now is also to the time to winterize your lawn. Start by cutting the grass a little higher and anytime in the next month spread fertilizer aimed at encouraging root growth. It may seem strange to be fertilizing at this time of year, but the soil is still warm and you want to encourage a lot of root growth for a lusher lawn next summer. You should also rake the leaves off your lawn to encourage growth. Piled up leaves on the lawn can cause dead spots that will have to be reseeded next spring. A little care now will save a lot more work early next season.

Check all of your shrubs and trees. After Irene stressed the trees and blew their leaves halfway to Canada, the trees may need a little TLC to help them get through the coming winter. Look for insect damage, yellow or falling leaves, and bare spots in the mulch around the plant. If you have broken branches from the storm, cut them out now.

If you have shot holes in leaves or branches, you may have some form of borer. It is best to get rid of it before it can winter over and produce a new crop of borers next spring. To get rid of borers you may have to drench the plant with insecticide, cut off the affected limbs, or even inject an insecticide into the affected limbs.

If you have had plants outdoors for the summer, spray them with an insecticide, then do it again in 10 days to two weeks before bringing the plants inside. Otherwise you may see an explosion of insects in your home. Similarly, if you are moving plants into a greenhouse, you’ll need to spray before moving them in.

Outdoor ponds will also need a little TLC at this time of year. Rake all the leaves from the bottom of your pond. Rotting leaves use a lot of oxygen leaving little for your fish. Check on your pond plants. Make sure they can survive the winter. You may have to move them into deeper water for winter survival or even pull them out and put them in an indoor aquarium to ensure their survival.

Don’t forget to get your bird feeders ready: stock up on bird food and make sure the birds have a warm water dish. Also put out predrilled blocks for mason bees, which are one of the most prolifi c pollinators for your garden. If you have birdhouses, now is a good time to clean them out. Birdhouses help to give winter protection for many species from wrens to chickadees. Make sure the hole faces south, away from cold northerly winds, and that there is plenty of foliage around the birdhouse to make it easy for birds to use them.

In the flower garden, remove dead flower heads and pick all of the flowers you want for the indoor table. Remember to check for bees before bringing flowers into the house. This time of year the bees tend to hide in the flower heads until the sun warms them up in the morning. If you have tender plants such as dahlias that need to be dug up for the winter, make sure you mark their location so that you can dig them after frost has killed off the leaves.

If you marked areas that did not have daffodils or tulips last spring, now is the time to plant new bulbs. Get the largest bulbs you can afford and plant them twice the height of the bulb. In other words, if the daffodil bulb is 2 inches high, plant it so that the top is 4 inches deep. Otherwise you may find that animals dig up your bulbs or frost heaves them out of the ground. If you have an animal problem cover your bulb area with chicken wire (Jamestown Hardware has it) and put mulch over the wire mesh.

After you have done all that, take time to veg out in front of the boob toob and wait for the seed catalogs to come.

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