Gardening makes scents. In spring, it’s the scent of newly mown grass -- aah, fresh! In early summer, it’s the scent of roses -- aah, perfume! In August, it’s the scent of maturing vegetables -- aah, sweet corn! In September, it’s the scent of rotting vegetation -- ugh, P-U!
Despite setbacks with seemingly unending rain from mid-May to mid-June, and some prolonged dry spells in July and much of August, gardens have been lush with verdant foliage and colorful flowers. Unfortunately, recent heat, humidity, and drenching thunderstorms have turned the once-healthy and attractive leaves, stems, and flowers of many plants to mush (technical term for rotting plant parts). This lush mush is like a microbial stew and has the potential to infect other plants this year and next. So, it makes scents ... err, sense to begin fall cleaning a little early. Start by collecting all diseased plants or plant parts and burying them.
Mush is not confined to ornamental gardens. Vegetable gardens also have their share of rotting plant parts. Sometimes the infections causing rots of cucumbers, summer squash, tomatoes and other vegetables are not immediately apparent. But let these veggies sit on the counter for a few days and Š voila ... mush. The problem is made worse by rapid ripening of vegetables this month. Remember how we bemoaned the slow ripening of tomatoes just a few weeks ago. Now, many of us are harvesting tomatoes every other day by the bushel-full.
What can we do to outwit the mush-causing microbes?
n Wash soft-skin vegetables, such as tomatoes, peppers, summer squash and cucumbers, under running tap water. Do not use soaps, detergents or any commercial vegetable washes since chemicals in these products may be absorbed by the vegetables.
Washing in water alone will remove some of the microbes on the surface of vegetables, but will only delay rotting by a few days. Other vegetables will keep much longer. For example, carrots can be scrubbed under running water and then stored in the fridge for weeks. With potatoes and onions, gently dry rub soil from surfaces and then store these in a cool, dry location. They’ll keep into winter.
n Use mush-prone vegetables as soon as possible. Our meals now are comprised almost entirely of our garden produce. Since there are usually more veggies than we can eat in a few days, we look for other options. These include sharing our harvests with others, i.e. family, friends and food pantries; and preserving vegetables by canning, freezing and dehydrating.
Pay attention to these tasks this weekend:
n Shop early for spring flowering bulbs. The early bird gets the best quality bulbs; the late bird gets leftovers. Plan to buy a wide variety of species of different flowering times. This will extend the flowering season for spring bulbs.
n Keep deadheading annual flowers. Not only will this promote late season blooms, but it will keep those plants that tend to become weedy from re-seeding themselves. A good example of this is morning glory. On the other hand, there are some annuals that I don’t mind re-seeding. These include balsam, cosmos, cleome, love-in-the-mist (Nigella) and marigolds.
n Stop deadheading roses. "Wait a minute. First you told me to deadhead and now you tell me to stop. What’s up with that?" Uh, you weren’t paying attention; deadhead annuals, but not roses. By letting the last of the roses develop hips (that’s the fruit on roses not an analogous body part) the plants divert energy from flowering to hardening their stems in preparation for winter.
n Don’t let the window of opportunity slam on your fingers. Sowing grass seed, whether for new lawns or just in bare spots, is best completed by mid-September. Grass seedlings need time to mature if they are to survive the onset of cold weather.