This is the weekend we kiss summer "Goodbye!" That's what the calendar says, but for many gardeners it ended with the widespread frost earlier this week.
In a few areas of the county it was a hard frost; that is, temperatures below 28 degrees. Tender annuals and vegetables do not survive such temperatures. On the other hand, in our South County vegetable garden, only the tops of tender plants were damaged by frost, indicating temperatures in the range of 28 to 32 degrees. ... most likely closer to 32.
These plants won't put on much if any growth at this point, but undamaged fruit on the plants will continue to ripen.
As mentioned last week, even if not damaged by frost, tomatoes lose much of their flavor at these low temperatures. Therefore, the season for my tomatoes is over. I'm less fussy about peppers. They retain much of their flavor and will even continue to ripen if picked. The problem is that they won't keep long. Since it is not uncommon to have a few weeks of warm weather after a frost, I'll leave peppers on the plants a while longer, but will keep a close eye out (ouch!) for signs of deterioration.
Don't be in a hurry to kiss gardening activities "Goodbye!" There are chores to be done:
n Get started on planting spring flowering bulbs. Keep in mind that bulbs cannot tolerate poorly drained soils; plant bulbs only in well-drained sites. Spring bulbs prefer a sunny location, but most can take light shade or partial shade.
n Focus on planting deer-resistant spring bulbs if deer browsing has been a problem in the past. Most everyone knows that deer do not munch on daffodils, but deer also tend to avoid alliums, striped squill (Puschkinia libanotica), Fritillaria, glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa), squill (Scilla), grape hyacinth (Muscari), and snowdrops (Galanthus). I've seen crocus listed as deer resistant, but I wouldn't bet on it. Besides, if deer don't eat your crocus, rabbits will.
n Continue planting perennials, trees and shrubs until about Columbus Day. Planting after that may be risky since plants need four to six weeks of good root growth to get established, and root growth slows dramatically when soil temperatures drop below 40 degrees. Water new plantings if we do not get at least one inch of rain per week.
n Dig and divide bearded iris if needed. When dividing iris, examine the rhizomes (thick root-like stems) carefully. If portions of a rhizome are soft or rotted, that may be a sign that iris borers were present. Cut off and bury these sections of rhizome.
n Cut back on the frequency of watering for Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus. Place the plants in a cool room near a north or east window. Cool temperatures and infrequent watering will induce flower bud development on these plants.
n Pinch out the tip of Brussels sprouts to speed up development of the sprouts. The sprouts should be harvested when they are firm, not loose, and about one to two inches in diameter. Their flavor is much improved after plants have been exposed to frost.
n Get rid of the mummies! These mummies are the dried up fruit on grape vines. The mummification of grapes is caused by a fungal disease called black rot. An important strategy for managing this disease is getting rid of the mummies since they are the primary source for the spores that will cause infections on next year's grape crop. Pick all mummified grapes on the vines and from the ground. Bury them mummies!
I've heard a few people complain that this week's frost was early. It was not. It happened on about on the average date for first fall frost for the Berkshires. However, the last time we had a frost this early was almost 10 years ago. Happy fall!