Garden Journal columnist Ron Kujawski began gardening at an early age on his family's onion farm in upstate New York. Although now retired, he spent most of his career teaching at the UMass Extension Service.


The intricate structure of the sunflower blossom is just one reason why gardeners need to pause and explore the fascinating details of their plants.

Too often, the flower garden is something I walk past to get to the front door. At other times, I will glance at the plants and briefly admire the range of size and colors among the flowers in the garden, if not the range of weeds competing for my attention. Occasionally, I might also notice the various flower shapes and even pick up the scent of some. Yet, this casual attitude causes me to miss some of the most interesting and intricate aspects of those very same flowers.

This realization struck me recently while working in the vegetable garden. This garden may confuse some observers since there is a wide variety of annuals and a few perennials intermingled with the vegetables. This is done not only to attract pollinators to the garden but also to host predators of some pests that enjoy dining on our crops. In addition, the flowers function as camouflage, thus making it more difficult for pests to find their hosts. Among the annual flowers in the vegetable garden are sunflowers. It was when I stood up from doing the holy crawl, my weeding technique, and came face-to-face with a sunflower blossom that I became aware of how intricate this seemingly simple flower is.

In fact, the sunflower flower is not a single flower. Rather, it is made up of two types of flowers or florets. The outer petal-like structures are each a flower, called a ray floret, and are sterile. The tiny inner dark-colored part of the large sunflower is made up of hundreds of tiny flowers called disc florets. Each of these florets will develop a single seed. Adding to the intricacy of sunflowers is the spiral patterns formed by the disc florets. My wife, a retired math teacher, reminded me that this pattern follows what is called the Fibonacci Sequence. I’ll not even attempt to explain that, but it is interesting how nature and mathematics intersect.

That pause I took to examine the details of the sunflower prompts me to take a little more time in the future, not just for a superficial glance at our plants but for a little more exploration of the fascinating if not beautiful intricacies of our garden plants. 

There will be no pause when it comes to completing these tasks this week:

  • Continue to plant and/or transplant trees, shrubs, and herbaceous perennials. As I look ahead at the weather forecast, the cooler temperatures and supposedly more frequent rainfall than has been the pattern this summer are ideal for successful establishment of these plants. Just the same, water the soil deeply a day before planting and then water again immediately after planting. A layer of wood chips or other mulch will help retain some of the heat in the soil despite cooling air temperatures.
  • Pinch out the tops of Brussels sprouts. This will hasten the growth of the buds or sprouts and most will be ready for harvest at the same time. While frost is not good for pumpkins and squash, cool weather is great for Brussels sprouts. Cool, even frosty, temperatures promote firmer, sweeter sprouts.
  • Harvest pumpkins and winter squash when the vines begin to turn yellow and the stems of the squash are tan and hard. If still uncertain about their maturity, gently poke the skin of the fruit with your thumbnail. If the skin resists penetration of the thumbnail, it is ripe. Leave a 2 or 3 inch section of stem attached to each pumpkin and squash. Remove any soil by washing each with a solution of 1 tablespoon bleach in a quart of water before placing them in storage. The bleach solution will eliminate fungal diseases which may cause the squash to rot while in storage.
  • Resist the temptation to rip apples from the tree. Use a little TLC. Ripe apples will snap off easily when held in the palm of the hand and gently lifted.
  • Lift out volunteer seedlings of herbs that have appeared over the summer. Pot these for use indoors through the winter. If there are no volunteers, draft a few mature plants for potting. However, they don't transplant as well as seedlings do.
  • Be alert to the nests of paper wasps, yellowjackets, and bald-faced hornets when working in the garden or simply enjoying a sweet snack on the back porch. These insects are very defensive when it comes to protecting their nests which may be in the ground or hidden in the bushes. They are much less aggressive away from their nests. However, their diet at this time of year shifts from proteins to foods high in carbohydrates, e.g. sweets such as ripe fruit, soda, and doughnuts. Maybe a snack of raw spinach is better.
  • Rake or mow down mushrooms that come up in the lawn but check under the mushrooms first to be sure gnomes are not hiding there. Also, don’t try to annihilate them with fungicides. The mushrooms are not harming the grass and fungicides wouldn’t have any effect anyway.