Ron Kujawski: Right time to prune, gather seeds

Friday October 19, 2012

After the hard freeze of last Saturday, it’s amazing many plants are still in bloom. There are various asters, anemones, monkshood, sedums, ornamental grasses and some hardy annuals in flower.

Though it is not unusual to see herbaceous plants in bloom, it is rare to see a tree or shrub in bloom now. That’s one reason why common witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is a favorite of mine. It’s the last woody plant to bloom in our landscape. The mildly fragrant flowers are small, each with four yellow, strap-like petals.

Common witchhazel grows as a small tree or large shrub up to 20-25 feet tall and is native to this region. It has bright yellow fall foliage. Though it favors a moist, shady habitat, our witchhazels are thriving in shallow, gravelly, and alkaline soil. It would not be an understatement to say they are adaptable to many types of soils. Our witchhazels cost us nothing, since they occur naturally in the woods around our home. Those not as fortunate to have naturalized witchhazels in their landscape can buy them at many nurseries for planting this weekend.


The inevitability of more hard freezes ahead should not dissuade us from these tasks:

n Take advantage of reduced prices on mums. There’s not much time left to enjoy these plants, but if they were field-grown they should be hardy enough to survive the winter with a little bit of care. Plant them in full sun and keep them wa tered as needed. When the ground freezes, place a mulch of straw or pine boughs over the plants. The stems can be cut back in spring.

n Prune back those branches on pears, apples, plums, cherries and firethorn that have been infected with fire blight this year. Symp toms of this disease are first no ticed in late spring and early summer when shoot tips suddenly wilt and turn black as if scorched by fire. Since the disease over-winters in cankers on the affected branches, some control can be achieved by pruning these branches now.

n Don’t be casual in trying to identify which of the numerous mushrooms now appearing in lawns and landscapes are edible. It’s easy to mistake a lethal mush room for an edible one. Even experts occasionally make a mistake when identifying edible mushrooms.

n Collect seed from four-o’clock. Huh? No, that’s not a reference to time of day when it’s best to collect seed. Rather, I’m referring to that old-fashioned tender perennial which grandma grew in her garden. Four-o’clock (Mirabilis jalapa) is a tender perennial with fragrant, trumpet-shaped flowers of white, red, pink, or yellow that open in late afternoon, hence the common name. Though frost has brought its flowering season to an end the plant can be propagated now by collecting seed or by taking cuttings of its thick tuberous root.


With so many outdoor tasks to be done before onset of cold weather, it’s easy to neglect our houseplants. Yet, this is a critical time for them. Just as outdoor plants are adjusting to changes in their environment, houseplants also have to adapt to shifting conditions.

For outdoor plants the environmental changes are typically gradual, while the changes for houseplants are more dramatic, mostly due to heating systems being turn ed on. The sudden change in temperature and humidity stresses houseplants. As a result, it’s not unusual for plant leaves to turn yellow and drop off. At that point, many houseplant caretakers hit the panic button.

Since I have no idea where I put that darn button, I usually stay calm. Besides, experience has taught me that the plants will eventually adapt, though they will look as if they’re on death’s door. To assist plants in making this transition, keep them away from heat sources and set them on trays of pebbles filled with water. Moving plants nearer to a bright window or providing supplemental light from a lamp will also help them to adjust.


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