Tasks for the November Garden

Article by A. Goldman and C. StClair

The growing season may be winding down but there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy your property this month. A few tasks to consider…

Oakleaf Hydrangea in fall
  • Take a stroll around to assess what grew well, what may have struggled, and needs to moved, empty spots that will need a new plant next year (shopping!!). Make notes for future reference or else document the needs with your phone camera.
  • Harvest seed pods, dried ornamental grass tops, pine cones, interesting twigs, sweet gum balls, and other potential natural holiday decorations.  Please leave a quantity for wildlife to enjoy throughout the winter but if you are using these items outside they can still nosh on them in a wreath or porch pot.
  • Bring inside any delicate garden ornaments.  Freezing temperatures and winter weather along with winds and maybe a falling tree branch can do damage to beloved garden art. 
  • For not yet planted plants, assess your possibilities for overwintering if they just can’t make it in the ground.  Group together near a wall for protection but make sure they still receive moisture.  You can tuck them into a compost pile, wrap pots with bubble wrap and overwinter in a larger planter, or if you can’t deal with so many….gift them to another gardener!
  • Finish planting spring bulbs. Bulbs can be planted until January as long as the ground is not frozen.
  • Keep spreading downed leaves around shrubs and trees.  Leaves are nature’s soil blanket and soil builder.  Many pollinators and amphibians overwinter in leaves so next season’s spring peeper may be snuggled up under your shrubs!
  • Make sure evergreens that have been planted in the last two years have sufficient water going into winter.  Evergreens lose moisture through their needles all year round and if the ground is frozen, this depletes their reserves and browning or death can occur.  
  • Compost in place.  If your limp Hosta leaves are challenging your garden aesthetics, cut them down and leave them on the ground. No worries as they will soon decompose right there and enrich your soil doing it.   This works best for softer items but can be done if woodies are cut up in small pieces. 
  • If you are planning a new garden bed or the expansion of an existing one next year, get a head start now. Cover turf areas with newspaper. Top that with alternate layers of leaves and green compostable items like grass clippings and vegetable waste to a height of about 18 inches. Come spring, the area will much more friendly for planting.
  • For bird lovers; clean out birdhouses and then add bits of soft fabric (natural fibers) for overwintering.  On bitter cold nights birds will seek shelter in houses and often with other birds to help retain heat.  In the spring the bits of fabric can be placed on the ground for nest building. 
  • If you do not already have a bird feeder on your property, consider installing one for your important garden assistants.   They are still inspecting your trees for harmful insects and watching colorful bird antics in the winter months makes for great entertainment.  Feeders provide supplemental food when winter conditions are harsh. Buy quality bird seed.  Something you would like if you were a bird!
  • Don’t throw out your hanging basket. You might want to recycle that after reading December’s issue.
Leaves make great mulch!

Weed Watch: Hairy Bittercress

Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine Hirsuta) is a winter annual weed that begins growing in late fall and resumes growing in late winter and early spring, often before other plants wake up from their winter slumber.

This weed forms a rosette of leaves in the fall and usually waits until spring to flower. It forms small white flowers on stems above the foliage. The flowers turn into long thin seed pods. When the seeds are ripe, the pods explode when disturbed, shooting the seeds up to 16 feet according to some sources.

Hairy Bittercress is an annual and is usually shallow rooted and easy to pull out. The secret to its success as a weed is the prolific amount of seed and the ability to spread it by explosion so early in the season when other plants have not yet emerged to cover ground.

The best way to manage this weed is to pull them before they make seeds. Removing the rosettes in the fall or early winter can reduce the springtime invasion.

However, Hairy Bittercress does have some wildlife value for early butterfly caterpillars and specialist bees.  If possible, leave a patch in your yard for the caterpillars to munch.

Fun fact… Hairy Bittercress is part of the mustard family and is edible. It apparently has a mild, peppery flavor.

Want more information? Here are some links:

Brooklyn Botanic Garden Weed of the Month

North Carolina Extension – Cardamine hirsuta

Bulbs for the Bees

Article by A. Goldman

Crocus vernus ‘Flower Record

Fall is a great time to anticipate spring by planting some spring blooming bulbs.  Not only do you benefit from seeing flowers early in the year, the bees will thank you for giving them an early season boost of nectar from those early bloomers.

Galanthus elwesii (Snowdrop)

Late February/beginning of March is when the queen bumblebee, solitary bees and honey bees may emerge to forage for much needed pollen and nectar to replenish their energy levels.  By planting early bulbs such as:  Snowdrops (Galanthus), Crocus, Buttercups (Eranthis), Glory of the snow (Chinodoxa), Siberian squill (Scilla siberica, and even species tulips you can greatly enhance the presence of pollinators in your garden for the season.

For a continuation of spring color, later bloomers include Fritillaria, Grape hyacinth (Muscari) and those highly-scented Hyacinths. 

Allium aflatunense ‘Purple Sensation’

A large group that would satisfy any gardener and that bees also relish is the Allium family.  There are early and mid-spring as well as summer blooming Allium in various heights, colors, and forms. They all provide excellent bee forage and can provide interest in pretty much any area of the garden.

Planting bulbs is easily done up until the ground freezes and you can still place an order from some excellent sources.  Some of our favorites include:

www.Brentandbeckysbulbs.com

www.Oldhousegardens.com

www.Whiteflowerfarms.com

Helleborus orientalis (Lenten Rose)

One additional thought on providing early blooming flowers for the bees, Hellebores are excellent for this purpose. Like bulbs, once established Hellebores can thrive for years with not much fuss or muss. 

If you have Hellebores already established in your garden, investigate under the “skirts” for babies that can be transplanted to new locations in the fall.

Planting bulbs is a spring present to yourself and to the bees who will appreciate you thinking of them and continue to pollinate the landscape for the benefit of us all.  

Crocus chrysanthus ‘Blue Pearl’

Just Do the Soil Test

You’ll be glad you did

Soil test picture

Do you have an area of your yard that is not doing as well as you’d like? Or maybe you’re considering creating a new planting area? Have you tested the soil in your vegetable garden in the past 5 years? Or ever?

A soil test can give you valuable (and sometimes surprising) information. Proper soil nutrients create healthy plants that are better able to fend off diseases and pests without any intervention. Knowing the state of your soil can help prevent the expense of excess fertilization, not to mention the environmental damage that excess fertilizer can cause.

Now is the perfect time to get that soil test.  If the soil test indicates that your soil is too acidic, you can apply the lime in the fall so it has time to alter the soil pH over the winter. If your soil is low in organic matter, you may decide to grow a cover crop over the fall and winter.

 Any needed fertilizers should be added in the spring before planting.

Soil test kits can be purchased from the Penn State Extension Office in Smeadley Park. Follow the directions for sampling carefully – your test results are only as good as your sample.  You will receive a soil report sent directly to your home with all the recommendations for improving your soil.  If you have any trouble interpreting your test report, you can always contact the Master Gardener Hort Line for help.

Want more information? Here are some links:

Penn State Extension: Soil Testing Overview

Penn State Extension: Don’t Guess… Soil Test

Penn State Extension: Interpreting Your Soil Test Reports

Penn State Extension: Soil Test Results: “What’s Next?” Guide for Homeowners

Glorious Garlic

Garlic is planted in the fall – the same as ornamental bulbs like tulips and daffodils. In Southeastern PA, garlic is generally planted in mid-October. The timing is based on giving the bulbs time to create a good root system before cold sets in, but not so much warmth that they sprout before winter.  

There are many varieties of garlic which fit into two main types, hardneck and softneck. Hardneck varieties are generally more hardy and easier to grow in our climate, but it never hurts to experiment.  Garlic bulbs for planting can be purchased from many places where you would purchase fall bulbs.

Garlic bulbs should be broken into individual cloves and planted about 2 inches deep, 6 inches apart in an area with fertile, well-draining soil in full sun.  Like other bulbs, your garlic will sprout in spring and grow through the beginning of summer.  To get the largest bulbs, keep your garlic well fed, watered in times of drought and weed free. The flower stalks (or scapes) of hardneck garlic should be removed to maximize bulb size.  They are edible!

Garlic is harvested when the leaves start turning brown. You want at least 4 of the leaves still have some green, otherwise the bulbs will split open, start to lose their papery wrappers and will not store well. Garlic is usually ready for harvest in our area by mid-July.

Harvest the bulbs carefully as they bruise easily when fresh. Allow them to dry for two to 3 weeks in a well-ventilated, shaded area. Then brush off any soil, cut off the dried tops and roots and store in a cool, dark location.

You can save some of your garlic bulbs to plant again next year. Save the largest bulbs to get the biggest crop.

Want more information? Here are a couple links:

Penn State Extension: Growing and Using Garlic

Penn State Extension: Garlic Production

Gardening by Phone

Article by A. Goldman

Phone photo

With the plethora of new gardening gadgets, there is one that pretty much everyone has in their pocket or purse; your phone…or more specific the camera on your phone.

Since we are winding the garden season, now is a good time to document both your garden and also your purchases for the 2019 season. 

When purchasing plants throughout the season, I group the plant tags together and snap a picture just in case they are lost.  If you are extremely diligent, this can be done for specific planters, especially if the combos are ones you like and want to replicate next year. 

I also document plants that I might want to buy in the future but may not remember the name or cultivar.  You can also research a plant easily while still in the store using any search engine.  This may or may not save you money! Flowerchecker  is an app for handy identification as well as NatureGate which will ID plants, birds, fish, and butterflies. 

Everyone’s garden goes through many changes both good and bad so take a few pictures of areas that you are really pleased with, plant combos that worked out, plants you think you should buy more of or need to repeat again for a continuous look, areas that could use some spring, summer, or fall bulbs, or maybe even some garden art to spice things up. 

Areas of your garden that are looking peaky (rundown), overgrown or in need of something different, having a picture with you can help you make wise decisions when shopping those fall ½ sales!  Just looking at a picture sometimes will give you a fresh perspective on what that area needs.

Once the garden season is over and winter sets in, download and establish files for plants and sections of your garden for future reference.  Winter is a good time to start your lists for next season’s garden, which can easily be done with your phone’s apps.  When the 2020 garden catalogs start arriving, I sometimes snap a picture of a new variety to be on the lookout for.

Your phone can help you in the garden in many ways but try not to lose it in the garden.  It will be of no use then. 

Master Gardener Second Saturday Review – Colonial Medicine

Article by Barbara Raczkowski

Photo courtesy of Clarissadillon.info

Did you ever meet anyone, who owned their own still?  Then…..you discover that the owner of this apparatus is an 86yr. old woman, attired in period clothing, who has a PhD. in history from Bryn Mawr College.” Oh, my….this is going to be interesting.”

This was my experience when I met the speaker at the Master Gardener’s “Second Saturdays” event, which was held on Aug. 10.   Her name is Clarissa F. Dillon, whose scholarly knowledge covers two continents….North America and Europe.  She talks about 17th and 18th century housewifery. Standing behind her still, which she calls her penguin as it does indeed look like a copper bird, Clarissa began her lecture talking about “Dr. Mom”. Colonial women besides being wives and mothers were also doctors, nurses and apothecaries.

The lecture was illustrated by a table filled with colonial artifacts….tool, syrups, compresses and herbs, referring to different objects Clarissa lead us through a mesmerizing and fascinating lecture.

Our colonial ancestors evolved from the belief that an evil life style caused  disease, (the devil made me do it…..blood letting anyone?) to a more enlightened and scientific approach of cause and effect.

What I found particularly fascinating was that Clarissa goes back and studies first hand, original documents.  She told us that it was customary for colonial women to notate their experiments and their results and very often the “successful cures” would be passed down from generation to generation and often from friend to friend.  She has researched hundreds of these documents from ordinary citizens.  In addition, she jokingly told us her PhD and scholarly acclaim have also given her access to some colonial celebrity healers such as  Ben Franklin’s first wife….whose name was Guilelma Springett.

Even more fascinating is the fact that she then goes back like the scholar that she is and duplicates all the receipts (recipes) which she researches.  She shared many interesting things including the fact that there are three different plants which, when applied to a bleeding human body, will stop the blood flow.

If you are interested in learning more about her, you can go to her web-site: Clarissa Dillion.info

And just for the record, Clarissa has a permit for her still, which holds less than a  gallon of liquid…..and uses it for scientific and historic purposes only…..and she never served us any “refreshments” although Second Saturdays are always accompanied by tasty treats !  Hope you will join us for some upcoming events……

End of Season Plant Sales

The good, the bad and the ugly

Those end of season plant sales can be very exciting. The prices are so great, you can finally fill all those “holes” in your landscape.  But how can you tell if a great price is also a great value? Here are a few things to consider.

Make sure the plant in question matches the planting conditions you have, is hardy in your zone and will fit into your landscape. Its not a bargain no matter the price if you can’t grow it well in your yard.

While you can expect some leaf and branch damage by the end of the season, wilting or burned plants, or rotting ones, that have obviously not been cared for are risky. Extremely stressed plants may not survive in spite of your best TLC.

Don’t be surprised if perennials have been cut back. The stems may be shorter but they should still be intact. A gentle tug may tell you if stems are rotting. The exception to this are spring ephemeral perennials that are going dormant. These may have naturally lost many of their stems making it a bit more difficult to access the health of the plant. Nursery staff should be able to tell you if a plant is a spring ephemeral.

Check carefully for any pests or diseases you do not want to introduce into your garden. In some cases this can include noxious weeds (Hairy Bittercress – I’m looking at you!).

Don’t be afraid to carefully slip the plant from its pot and check the root system. There should be evidence of live roots. At the end of the season, you can expect some root wrapping around the pot edges, but if a plant is extremely root bound and feels hard as a brick, consider carefully. You will need to cut and tease those roots out in order to plant properly. This is difficult with extremely root bound plants.

Be aware that clearance plants may not have the same warrantee as full price plants, best to check with the nursery.

Try to plant your finds as soon as possible so they can begin establishing themselves. Mulch them, but do not fertilize.  You may be able to divide some perennials that have been growing in a pot all season when you plant.

Be sure to keep the plants watered throughout the fall.  Squirrels are notorious for digging up transplants in the fall so keep an eye out. Sometimes fall planted specimens are more susceptible to frost heave so be prepared to tuck them back in during winter thaws if need be.

Want more information? Check out this Penn State article.

Penn State Extension – Garden Bargain or Bust?

Plant Profile: Rudbeckia laciniata

A tall, native coneflower

Rudbeckia laciniata is commonly known as cut leaf coneflower or green headed coneflower.  It is a stately native perennial that can reach 9 feet tall under the right conditions but generally grows 5-7 feet tall. Its preferred location is full to part sun in moist soil. It naturally occurs in moist woodland clearings or along stream beds. It is adaptable to average garden soil, but may wilt during periods of drought without supplemental water.

Like many plants, there are both pros and cons to adding Rudbeckia laciniata to your garden.

On the positive side, this rudbeckia provides plenty of sunny flowers and has a long 2 month bloom time – July through September.  The size and bright coloration of this plant creates a strong accent in the garden at a time when some other perennials are starting to wane.

The flowers are attractive to bees (both native and domesticated) and butterflies, providing a late season nectar source.  They have attractive seed heads and the flower seeds provide food for finches in the fall.  This coneflower is generally pest and disease resistant and can handle hot, humid summer weather.  It is considered deer and rabbit resistant.

Because of its tolerance for moist soil and periodic flooding, it is a good plant for flood prone areas or rain gardens. Given space, it can create a (very tall!) groundcover. The root structure provides good erosion control.

However (here come the cons), in moist sunny areas this coneflower can spread somewhat aggressively by underground rhizomes. Plants should be edged or divided in spring to control the spread.

In fertile soils, more shade or windy areas the plants will probably need staking to keep it upright. 

While the plants will probably survive drought, the lower leaves will droop and brown. Drought stress can occasionally result in powdery mildew.

If you can give this plant a bit of moisture and some room to grow, it might be a great addition to a pollinator friendly landscape.

Want more information? Here are some links:

Missouri Botanical Garden plant profile – Rudbeckia laciniata

Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center –  Rudbeckia lancinata

The Fall Vegetable Garden

Broccoli

Believe it or not, now is the time to start thinking about your fall vegetable crops. 

The fall vegetable garden can sometimes be a bit challenging in our climate because soils are often hot and dry in July and August. This can prevent seeds of cool season crops from germinating. 

One way to get around this is to start these vegetables indoors where the temperature and moisture can be controlled. Start the seeds in mid-July and then transplant the seedlings into the garden in mid-August. Be sure to properly harden off the seedlings before transplanting.

Plants that respond well to this technique include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, collards, kale, lettuce and spinach.

If you would prefer to direct seed all you crops in the garden, there are a couple things you can do to increase the chance of success.

Make sure the seeds are kept moist until the seedlings are well established. On very hot days, this may mean watering more than once.

If possible, provide some temporary shade for your seed bed until the seedlings are well established, particularly during the hottest part of the day. You may be able to plant some of the seeds in places where they get some afternoon shade from existing plants.

If some of your warm season crops (cucumbers, beans, summer squash) are looking a bit tired or worse for wear, you probably still have time to plant another sowing of seeds and harvest another crop.  Just look at the days till harvest on your seed packet and make sure you have enough days until the first expected frost. You can find the first expected frost date for your exact location here.

Want more information? Here are some links:

National Gardening Association – When to plant vegetables

Cornell Extension Vegetable Growing Guide

Delaware Cooperative Extension –Vegetable Garden Planning Schedule