Ron Kujawski: Don't get your hopes up - there's still chores left

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To many people, October represents the closure of the gardening season. After all, much of the fruit and vegetable harvest has been completed, flowers are fading, trees and shrubs are dropping their leaves — well, except for evergreen types — and it is likely that many gardens experienced a bit of frost a few days ago. As such, many folks are asking, "What's there to do?"

I'm sorry to ruin any thoughts you've had of sitting back and resting on your laurels, or whatever plant you prefer to sit down on, but October may be the busiest month of the gardening year. So, get up and get on with these tasks:

- Start fall cleanup in flower beds and borders, and in vegetable gardens. Pull up spent annuals and cut down the brown or yellow foliage and flower stems of herbaceous perennials. Do not remove any foliage from perennials that are still green since the plants are continuing to produce and store carbohydrates to support next year's growth. Also, remove or shred remnants of vegetable plants that are no longer productive. Shredded plants may be tilled in, but if they experienced disease or pest infestation during the growing season, it's best to remove them. These plants may be tossed onto a compost pile, but the compost temperatures need to reach at least 140 F. Otherwise, bury diseased plants in a non-garden area or in your neighbor's garden. On second thought, the latter option may not be a wise idea.

- Mow down summer cover crops, such as buckwheat and mustard. Using a string trimmer, I cut down the tall plants in stages rather than severing them right at the base. In this way, the stems are cut into smaller pieces, which dry quickly and are easy to till into the soil. I'll be planting my garlic later this month where the mustard grew, since mustard is a bio-fumigant, meaning that it releases a chemical that acts to suppress soil-borne pests and diseases.

- Sow seeds of winter rye or winter wheat in areas of the garden that are now vacant. These cover crops survive the winter and begin growth anew in spring. Mow down and till these cover crops into the soil early next spring, about two weeks before planting or transplanting any vegetable crops.

- Sow seeds of kale, spinach, leaf lettuce and radish if the crops can be covered with row covers or can be grown in cold frames. If given protection from hard freezes, these hardy crops will yield harvests well into winter.

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- Collect and save flower seeds for planting next spring. Make sure the flower heads are fully ripened. Cut off the heads and place them in a paper bag to dry. When fully dry, the seeds will easily separate from the mature flower head. I store collected seed in 35mm film canisters, which are then kept in the refrigerator or cool corner of the basement. Don't forget to label each canister. I also store vegetable seed, mostly seed from hot peppers, in this manner.

- Make notes on this year's vegetable garden while the memories are still fresh. Make note of what was over-planted; what you might want to more of next year, what varieties performed well, or not so well, what pests and diseases were common.

- Dig up tender summer flowering bulbs, such as tuberous begonias, dahlias, canna and gladiolus. Afterward, air-dry the bulbs in a well-ventilated area free of frost. After a week or two, the bulbs should be gently cleaned of soil and stored in the basement in buckets of sand, peat moss or sawdust.

- Harvest apples early in the morning or, after harvest, let them cool outdoors overnight, a frost-free night, before storing in the coolest corner of the basement. Do not store apples and vegetables together, since fruits absorb odors from potatoes and other vegetables. I don't know of many people with a taste for onion-flavored apples.

- With the exception of American hornbeam, larch, magnolia, hemlock, sweetgum, tuliptree, willow, rhododendrons and narrow-leafed evergreens, continue planting trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials until mid-month. Warm, moist soil and cool air temperatures favor the establishment of these plants. Place mulch, e.g. wood chips, over the soil around, but several inches away from the stems of woody plants.

OK, now that I've taken all of the fun out of your life for this week, do take a moment to stroll through your ornamental gardens to see what remains in blooms. Sedum "Autumn Joy," asters, mums and Japanese anemones are a few that are currently flowering.Want to see more? Then take in the annual Harvest Festival at the Berkshire Botanical Garden next weekend.


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