Archive for the ‘Seasonal “To-Do” Guides’ Category

As the calendar page turns to November,  our gardening season is almost completed, but there still seems to be so much work to do.  I wanted to share a gardening resource I have come to look forward to in my email inbox each month.  To subscribe, you visit the web site greatlakesgardeners.com.  The home page will appear and directly under the heading banner, you will see a list of topics.  Click on enewsletter and it will take you to a page that will subscribe you to their monthly enewsletter by entering your email.  On the first of each month, you will receive a newsletter  by email with timely tips and suggestions for your gardening.  They are specific to the month and offer gentle reminders of what to do or not to do in your garden for the month.  I hope you give it a try and see if you enjoy receiving the information as much as I do.


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I can’t believe it was a week ago last Thursday night we said goodbye to summer with a flurry of activity around the office gardens.  The turn out was again unexpectedly good…maybe it was Marlene’s oatmeal cookies or the excitement that builds after a long hot summer and the promise of cool crisp weather.  Thanks to all who turned up and our two presenters!


Marlene’s presentation on seed saving and plant overwintering storage was very informative and well received judging by the numerous questions.  Paul came armed with a brand new set of pruners in a holster and led us on a hunt for peonies that needed the “treatment”.  He recommended cutting back the white one by the sign as the leaves were beginning to get moldy, but decided to let the others go a little longer as they were quite green and still capable of storing sugars.  Naida and Jeff recommended that some copper Bordeaux mix be sprinkled on the cut stems to stop any fungus being drawn down into the bulbs.  These little tips are what make community gardening events like this so very interesting and informative.  Paul said he would revisit the peonies in a couple of weeks and show those who want some “offspring”, how to lift and divide the mother plants.

Veggie garden headstone

Alas, the bag garden came to a premature end with some tomatoes and a few jalapenos still hanging in.  We all had a good look at the remains of a parasitized hornworm…I wish we had a specimen jar available to preserve the remains.  Unfortunately the office camera had a weak battery so I missed getting a shot of this rather gruesome end of this voracious predator.

Black gold

The compost has all been sifted and rebagged…Jeff, Carol, Naida and Sandy made short work of this big chore with three wheelbarrows and extra screens. The rest of us clipped, weeded and cutback what was needed.  Unfortunately Mark had another engagement, so the weed whipping and grass seeding will have to wait until another session.

The garden is starting to get some late season color… the catnip is back in bloom and the yew hedge in front is sporting some nice red color, the roses are still going strong, even the rosa rugosa, and the white and purple dahlias are at their best.  Soon the mums will open up and the garden will have a fall feel.

Dahlia and tuteur

This was my last W & L as I am taking a leave of absence for the remainder of the season.  I wish to thank my dedicated crew of regulars, Naida and the Milan gang, Mark and Carol, Sue, Linda and Sandy in particular…without whose help during the hot summer months, this garden wouldn’t be in the good shape it is right now.  I am also very pleased to see so many new faces turn up at the last couple of meetings.  Jennie also deserves a particular mention for all of her behind the scenes help and guidance on what to do with this garden…a task that has strained our friendship on more than a few occasions!

Yew fall berries

Pebble garden


I know I am somewhat in the minority by thinking that maintaining  an exhibition/demo garden is essential to a viable MG program.  It is not a requirement, as Jennie often reminds me… but a  teaching tool that the coordinator may decide to use as part of the extension program.  Whatever your particular position is on this, the fact remains that a high visibility gardening club must garden in public if it is to be taken seriously, let alone fulfill its MG community outreach mission.



Ornamental Pepper

Hens and chicks

Let’s plan on business as usual until we hear otherwise.  In the meanwhile, keep gardening!


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It isn’t easy keeping a garden going in mid summer.  With no measurable rain to speak of, my  plants and lawns  really took a beating this year.  The only time I broke out the hose, was to do some deep watering on an as needed basis. But my garden was far from being on life support.   Plants do have a natural way of coping with these adverse conditions if you let them.  There is a surprising amount of moisture in the morning dew during mid to late summer, and the plants will tap this resource to stay alive.  I believe in deep mulching in order to conserve soil moisture and this has enabled me to keep a garden on a sand hill.

Drought stressed lawn on sandy ground leach bed

I have lived in some very arid areas and didn’t grow up with the tradition of a season long  green  lawn and bountiful annuals.  My landscapes in California were always drought resistant shrubs and shade trees.   The color came from borders of hardy gazanias, portulacas, vincas and other sun loving plants.  I am not suggesting xeriscape unless you want to do a variation of a southwest garden…but a little commonsense and an understanding of plant physiology will get you through these trying dry spells.

  •  TURF GRASS:   This is probably the most visible area of drought stress. You should ask yourself just how important it is to maintain that spring green, or you can become accepting of the summer stress and live with a brown lawn. The grass is not dead, but merely in a survival dormancy mode until the cooler temperatures and the regular rainfall pattern resumes.

Drought stressed lawn

Grasses need about 3/4 of an inch of water every three weeks to stay alive while dormant. You should try to avoid any heavy traffic over it while in this fragile state, or you will kill the grass.  Dr. Dean Krauskopf recommends applying the water ration in one application.  He cautions against random light sprinklings, as this will just cause the grass to break dormancy.  Unless you are prepared to water heavily from then on, the grass will be damaged if not killed.  Of course it helps to have planted the tall fescue type of grass and to have the mower set to at least 3″ high when coming into summer…and maintaining a good soil fertility.

  • VEGGIE GARDEN:  Here your method of growing will have the most effect on how you conserve moisture.  I have had a lot of success growing veggies in straw or a compost/straw mix for a variety of reasons.  I would recommend growing your veggies in some form of a heavily mulched bed, using a drip system for watering rather than overhead watering from a hose.  Not only will you avoid a lot of pathogen problems, but you will promote better root development by this method…and it will save you time and money by using less water.

Straw mulch and drip system

Tomato with mulch

Also pay attention to the particular growth stage of your plants.  For example, sweet corn that is in the ear filling (reproductive) stage will require extra water than when in the vegetative or leaf mode…if you want to harvest full juicy ears. The same applies for your root veggies, squashes and melons.

  • TOMATOES:   By far the most popular of our warm season vegetables, even these sun lovers can take a sudden turn for the worse in extremely hot weather. Tomatoes require daily watering if they are to be productive.  With a hose this should be in mid morning, taking care to avoid splashing wet soil onto the plants.

Tomato with blossom end rot

But be prepared for an interruption of fruit production when the average daytime temperatures are over 90 deg and the nighttime ones are over 70 deg. These plants will go into survival mode and do not set fruit as they attempt to control their sugar output.  Plant physiology once again is trying to weather the dry spell.

This is also true of the other solanaceous family relatives, the eggplant, pepper and potatoes…and even the distant relative, our showy petunia. Tomatoes need regular watering if they are already producing fruit to facilitate calcium uptake and avoid the common blossom end rot.  Take care not to overwater if the plants are coming out of drought stress, as you will leach out valuable nutrients including the all important calcium.  You can read more about this in some of MSUE’s vegetable tip sheets…just follow the resources links found in the blog index.

  • ANNUALS, POTS, HANGING BASKETS:   These are obviously the most vulnerable to heat stress.  Annual beds should be mulched to conserve moisture and watered frequently.  Pots and hanging baskets should be temporarily relocated to a less sunny position, preferably away from drying winds.  They should be watered at least twice daily if the containers are small.

Repotted drought damaged potted petunias

Also your choice of potting soil will play a big part in the overall well being of your container plants.  I gently try to repot or renew some of the light potting mix the nurseries use to grow the plant, with compost.  This medium  has superior water retention properties over its peat based cousins, as well as a good shot of valuable nutrients. I would not recommend using any foliar fertilizer during periods of extreme drought stress to avoid burning the foliage.  With pots I have found it better to use a quality pelletized fertilizer at planting to promote good root development, which will help the plant survive the summer heat.  Frequent applications of high nitrogen formulations will result in excessive leaf growth and impressive flowers, but at the cost of  increased watering during hot spells.

  • TREES AND SHRUBS:   Generally these will weather long dry spells as their root systems are larger and usually more developed.  This makes them able to more easily access the subsurface moisture that the more shallow rooted smaller plants cannot. The exceptions are of course, fresh transplants and young stock, which will require at least twice weekly watering or as needed during a prolonged dry spell.

Dehydrated evergreen

Drought stressed pine needles

Arborvitae with drought stress

Conifers, particularly arborvitae,  are susceptible to tip burn and browning in hot dry spells.  In this area, this is becoming quite prevalent as we are now in our second year of drought-like conditions.  Often these trees went into winter dormancy without adequate hydration and suffered some winter desiccation damage.  What you are seeing now is often the result of this cumulative drought damage.  It is very important to ensure these trees are well watered before going into winter dormancy.


As you can see much of this is just plain commonsense.  But it is often good to understand what makes your garden grow to avoid any of these problems. There is a wealth of information available online from reputable university extension sources to help you diagnose almost any problem in the garden.

Our blog has links to some from MSUE and a favorite Cornell site for veggie problems.  And of course you can always come and visit our office demo garden and see how we cope with an extremely dry spot year long, without sacrificing the variety of plantings of perennials or shrubs.

Frank Deutsch

Master Gardener 2010

Photographs courtesy of Jennie Stanger, except patio pot (mine) and blossom end rot tomato (MSUE)

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