Ron Kujawski | Garden Journal: Getting ready for next spring

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This is a great time to extend or create new flower beds. If the bed to be created is currently in turf grass, dig out the grass rather than tilling it into the soil. Clumps of grass left in the soil will become a weed problem. As an alternative to digging up turf grass, mow it as low as low possible. If there are any woody or deep-rooted perennial weeds in the grass, dig these out. Then place cardboard or several layers of newspaper over the scalped grass. Wet the paper before applying straw, shredded leaves, compost, peat moss or other mulch over the top. The grass, the paper and the mulch should be well rotted by spring. At that time, it can all be tilled into the soil and make an ideal planting medium for new perennials and annuals.

Work remains

'Til you till, work on these tasks:

• Pull up insect-defiled, disease-ridden, slug-ravaged, drought-damaged annuals. It's a tough life being an annual. Replace these with colorful fall-blooming mums. Garden centers are awash with potted mums.

A question that often comes up with regard to these potted mums is "Are they hardy?" Yes ... no ... maybe! Some varieties are hardy, others less so, and some not at all. Improve the odds of winter survival by planting hardy varieties. (Ask before your buy.) Cut the stems down in late fall and place mulch, e.g. pines boughs, over the plants after the ground freezes.

• Plant trees, shrubs and perennials this coming month. September is often over-looked as a time for planting. Yet, conditions are usually ideal. Favorable factors include warm soils, longer and cooler nights, and increased soil moisture. Soil moisture is often plentiful though not so much this year — hence, watering new plantings is essential.

• Divide and transplant oriental poppies. Conventional wisdom has it that they do not bloom until the second year after transplanting, but I've had them bloom in June following fall division.

• Place potted plants in clay or plastic saucers filled with water when potting soils have become completely dry. The dry soil is more likely to re-wet in this way than by pouring water onto the top of the pot.

• Harvest split tomatoes when seen. Otherwise, sap beetles and other insects and some diseases will invade the fruit. Split tomatoes should be eaten as soon as possible. Leaving them on the counter for just a day or two often leads to mold developing in the splits.

• Don't let any vegetable get over-ripe. As mentioned above, they become very attractive to insects and diseases. Harvest them at the peak of maturity, even if you can't use them. Food pantries have a huge need for garden produce, so donate your surplus.

• Plant winter rye as a fall cover crop in vacant areas of the vegetable garden. Why rye? For one, the roots of rye release a chemical which inhibits weed seed germination. In addition, rye takes up nitrogen and other plant nutrients that would otherwise be leached out of the soil. When rye is tilled under in spring, those nutrients are released back into the soil for uptake by your crops.

• Apply fertilizer to lawns next weekend. Labor Day weekend is best time of year to fertilize lawns. If applying fertilizer only once per year, this is the time to do it.

• Take a few moments to analyze and evaluate your garden successes and failures this year. Just a few notes now can be very valuable when planning next year's gardens and when buying seeds and plants. Never rely on your memory because ... uh, I forget the reason.


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