Friday September 21, 2012

As a public service to those not closely attuned to the calendar, tomorrow is the first day of autumn. Ooops, was that your jaw hitting the floor?

It’s interesting how the focus of our activities suddenly changes with the arrival of autumn. That’s nothing new. Ancient civilizations took the autumnal equinox as a signal to begin preparations for the onset of winter. I also take the arrival of fall as a signal to begin seed collection.

Propagating plants by seed can be a lot of fun, not to mention a money saver. So, I scan landscape and garden for trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, herbs and vegetables and cut off their mature seed capsules or seed heads.

I avoid collecting seed from hybrid plants since I never know what those seeds will produce.

The decapitated seed capsules are placed in labeled paper bags for drying. Once the seeds are released, each type is stored in small jars, most of which are kept in the refrigerator until ready to germinate in spring, or until my wife gets tired of them cluttering up the fridge and tosses them in the garbage. The life of a seed collector is not an easy one.

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Perhaps, I’ll find these early fall preparations easier:

n Cut back the stems of dahlias to a few inches just before digging up the clumps of tuberous roots. Be sure to dig up the dahlias before they are exposed to a hard freeze. After digging, let the root clumps dry for a day or two and then shake off the dry soil. Store the roots in a bucket of sand, peat moss, sawdust or vermiculite. Storage temperatures should be as cool as possible but above freezing.

n Don’t worry about planting daffodils and other bulbs in areas that are now shaded by deciduous trees and shrubs. As long as these areas are in full sun in spring when the bulbs are blooming, they should do fine.

n Stop watering amaryllis and allow them to rest for about two months before resuming watering. Keep the resting bulbs in a cool location. Cut off the leaves when they have dried up.

n Take advantage of rain-softened soil to grub out Oriental bittersweet, non-native honeysuckle shrubs, Japanese barberry, briars, and other invasive plants.

n Spot treat broad-leaf weeds in lawns if they offend your sensibilities. Since weeds are now storing carbohydrates in their root system, they are more likely to take up herbicides, which are transported along with the carbohydrates to the roots. Don’t fret if the weeds do not appear to die this fall. They’re not likely to be around when spring arrives. Do not apply herbicides to newly seeded or over-seeded lawns.

n Squeeze in another planting of radishes. They mature rapidly and should provide at least one more crop before the onset of frigid weather. Some leafy greens, such as spinach, mustard greens and mache, may also be planted now.

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The arrival of autumn signals many veteran Berkshire gardeners to mark their calendars for the annual Harvest Festival at the Berkshire Botanical Garden, i.e. Oct. 6 and 7. For those still contemplating purchasing spring flowering bulbs, the Botanical Garden will have a good selection of bulbs on sale then. However, Dorthe Hviid, horticultural director at the garden, is taking pre-festival bulb orders, a good option to ensure getting your selections. To pre-order bulbs call Dorthe at 413-298-4505 or email her at dhviid@berkshirebotanical.org

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Attention green industry professionals! The Center for EcoTech nology (CET), in conjunction with the Berkshire Botanical Garden, is offering a workshop, "IPM for Landscape Professionals," at the Botanical Garden from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday. Pesticide recertification credits are available. To register, call Aric Brown at 413-445-4556 ext. 30.