October's display at Butchart Gardens.
October Garden Chores
In This Issue
Hello Fellow Gardeners,
Dry and stinky. That sums up the gardening year in British Columbia. No garden, no farmers field, no orchard and no vineyard were safe from the brown marmorated stink bug. They feasted on my dahlias and made some of my tomatoes inedible. Plucking them off the plants and plopping them in a small jar of soapy water was most empowering and quite satisfying, I have to say.
Now it’s autumn and the rain and cool temperatures are a game changer in the garden. Plants are preparing for winter and there’s lots to be done.
There’s always transplanting to do in fall. The three pasque flower plants in the front garden don’t know it yet, but they are going to be joining the other three in the back garden against the garage. Then there’s the double flowered Michaelmas daisies by the house. They are too tall, and they need more sun. I have just the spot. They’ll do better along the unshaded boulevard garden. It needs some colour, and their long stems will look good against the fence.
A dry day goes a long way to making garden clean-up a satisfying experience. Hauling blight ridden tomatoes into paper recycle bags in the rain is quite unpleasant to say the least. Digging into soggy, water-logged soil is a real slog. Our clay mud is slick and sticky. It grabs onto the shovel and sucks my wellies right off your feet.
I’m looking forward to those dry crisp golden October days to tend to the garden. I hope we have enough of them, and with that said, we still need to have rain and a normal autumn. We’ll have to see what is in store for us all.
Here’s to getting down and dirty in the garden!
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The BC Fuchsia and Begonia Society promotes fuchsias, begonias, ferns and other shade-loving plants. The society meets at 7pm, 2nd Wednesday each month at St. Timothy's Church Hall, 4550 Kitchener Street. They offer knowledgeable speakers, plant displays, plant sales, refreshments and friendship. Click on Fuchsias & Begonias to learn more. Email rm.g(at)shaw.ca to attend a meeting.
Video: Taming Tomatoes for Fast Ripening
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October's Public Gardens
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October Garden Chores
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Wrapping up the Veggie Garden. The problems of this year’s veggie garden won’t go away just because winter in on the horizon. Diseases and insects overwinter in contaminated debris and bare, fallow soil leaks nutrients and reduces soil fertility. For a list on what to do, click on Veggie Garden Fall Clean-up.
Plant!: It’s autumn; the perfect time to plant & transplant trees, shrubs, vines and perennials. It’s better than spring as the ground is still warm, the rain has returned and there’s no summer heat and drought threatening their health. For more on successful planting methods click on Planting Know-How.
Plant spring flowering bulbs. Purchase bulbs now for the best selection and don’t wait to plant them. The sooner they are in the ground, the more roots they will produce resulting in healthier plants and nicer flowers. For attractive displays, plant bulbs in groups rather than a straight line. Nestle them inside or next to heathers, perennial candytufts, daylilies and low evergreens. For more information on how to plant, design and protect bulbs click on Spring Flowering Bulbs.
Dahlias: Dahlia may survive being left outside over the winter in USDA growing zones 7 to 10, but only if the soil drains well and a thick layer of mulch is placed on top. Cut back a mild winter outdoors in zone 7 (as long as the soil is well drained and the area is thickly mulched). To overwinter and store dahlia tubers inside, click on Dahlias.
Tuberous Begonias: Wait for the stems to naturally break off from the tubers then store in a cool, dark, frost-or details and accompanying pictures click on Tuberous Begonias
Cannas: In the garden, cut back stems to a couple of inches when plants go dormant, or when frost kills their tops. Dig up and store the tubers as you would dahlias, or keep potted cannas in their pots and store in a cool, frost-free basement. For more info click on Overwintering Tropical Plants Indoors.
Fuchsias: Bring them inside in USDA growing zones 1 to 7. Treat them as houseplants and place them in front of a sunny window or induce dormancy by placing in a cool dry place, 4-7°C (45-55°F) - a basement works well. Water every 3 to 4 weeks to slightly moisten the soil. In zones 8 to 9, bury them in the garden. For zone 8 to 11, leave fuchsias in the ground or bury potted ones in the garden. For more info click on Overwintering Tropical Plants Indoors
Tender Tropical Plants & Houseplants: If potted geraniums, bougainvilleas, coleus and other frost tender plants are still outside, bring them inside asap. Learn how to overwinter them here.
Tender Plants Outside: Click on palms and bananas, to learn how to protect them outside during the winter.
Fall & Winter Plants: Add some flowers and colour to your winter garden and planters with winter pansies, primroses, ornamental kale and cyclamen. Visit your local plant nursery for more colourful and interesting options. From shrubs to trees there's something for everyone and every garden. Just read the labels to find out if they like sun or shade and how tall and wide they will become. For a list click on Colourful Fall Plants.
Save the Seeds: Sweet peas, marigolds, sunflowers, calendulas, hollyhocks, foxgloves, lettuce, peas, beans, peppers and tomatoes are a few of the plants that produce lots of viable seeds. Gather mature seed pods that have turned brown. Store seeds in paper envelopes and don’t forget to label what they are and the year. To learn more about collecting seeds click on Collecting Seeds.
Cuttings: Take hardwood cuttings from deciduous shrubs and evergreens now through winter and early spring. Select dormant, mature stems that don't bed easily.
Compost: The compost bin is not a dumping ground for all plant debris. Avoid seedy weeds, ones with runners, buggy and diseased plants. Cut up large plants into smaller pieces to speed up the composting process. Turn the compost and add water if needed. Top it off with a 2-to-4-inch layer of fall leaves or strips of torn newspaper. For more on composting click on Composting.
Weed: Hand weeding is quick and efficient. Try your best to get all the runners, roots, seeds heads and flowers. For more obnoxious weeds such as horsetail and bindweed, just pull them up, don’t dig them up. Disturbing the soil spreads the little devils even more. After weeding, put down 3 inches of mulch to prevent more weeds from growing. Don’t put landscape fabric or plastic under the mulch. On the other hand, you can add a one-inch layer of newspaper on top of the ground, before you add the mulch, to deter obnoxious weeds.
Stop Caterpillars! Apply home-made sticky tree bands to prevent forest tent caterpillars and other insects from climbing up your trees. To learn more click here.
Don’t fertilize: Feeding plants this late in the year encourages new growth that will be killed by the icy cold temperatures and wind.
Remove supports: Take away the supports from plants that no longer need them such as peonies, tomatoes, and trellises in the veggie garden. Wash or spray with 50/50 Lysol and water solution, dry and store.
Stink Bugs & Spiders: To prevent stink bugs & spiders from overwintering in your house, seal any cracks in the house foundation, siding, windows and doors with a high-quality silicone or silicone-latex caulk. Look for gaps around utility pipes, outlets, and behind chimneys. Replace damaged door and window screens. Ensure the weatherstripping around the front and back doors are intact. Replace outdoor lighting with yellow bulbs or keep them off at night as stink bugs are attracted to the light. Although you might want to kill spiders, please don't as they love to feast on stink bugs! To learn more about stink bugs, click on Stink Bugs.
Hummingbirds: To help hummingbirds, like Anna's hummingbirds that overwinter in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest, there are a few tips and techniques to keep the nectar from freezing. To learn more, click on Hummingbirds in Winter.
Birds: Seeds and suet keep birds alive during the winter. Keep the feeders filled and clean them regularly to prevent mould, mildew and bacteria from killing the wee darlings.
Ponds: Fall clean up and winter prep is necessary for a healthy pond. To learn more click on Ponds in Winter.
After a Storm: Have a good walk around the garden and check along the road for broken and fallen limbs. Prune them off ones the ones you can reach or hire a certified ASA arborist to do the job for you. Call Hydro if overhead lines are in jeopardy from broken branches, and certainly don’t attempt to do any pruning near hydro lines.
Storm Drains & Eaves: Prevent flooding by removing fallen leaves and other debris. Check periodically especially after a storm, strong winds and heavy rains. Don't forget to clean out the gutters before it gets too nasty to do so.
Garden Hoses: Once your gardening chores have ended, drain the garden hoses, remove their nozzles, and store away from the elements.
Tools: Clean and put away your tools after you are done with them for the year. Disinfect pruning gear with a 50/50 solution of Lysol and water in a spray bottle. Dry then spray with a vegetable oil spray. Store in a dry location. To learn more about pruning tools click on Pruning Tools.
Garden Sheds/Greenhouses: Move fertilizers, dormant oil, lime sulfur and other garden products into a frost free and dry location. Clean and tidy the shed and the greenhouse.
Prepping for Winter
Reduce your workload and encourage a healthy ecosystem by not raking the garden clean of all debris. There’s no need to strip plants of their foliage and to cut them back to nothing. It does more harm than good. That used to be the way, but due to research we now know that it is detrimental to plants and the environment. All that organic debris is nature’s nursery. It’s where bees, ladybugs and other beneficial insects overwinter. It also feeds the plants as worms and other soil dwellers break the organics down.
What to Remove: Confiscate diseased, infected and infested plant parts from plants and the ground.
Cutting Back: Cut down perennials (non-woody) to 6 inches. Hollow stems provide a place for beneficial insects to overwinter. Pull out weeds including their roots and runners as best you can. Avoid cutting back ornamental grasses as their seed heads provide food for overwintering birds.
Chop & Drop: When cutting back daylilies and other herbaceous perennials, don't discard those healthy and blemish free leaves and stems; just pile them around the plant. This chop and drop method provide added winter protection. Don’t do this if the plant is sickly. Always remove and discard peony leaves every fall to prevent Peony Blotch/Measles. For more details click on Fall Garden Chores.
Protecting Plants from old Man Winter
Know your zone: To protect plants from freezing to death, it’s important to know how cold and how long winters last where you live. If you don’t know your hardiness zone, click on the map above or check with your local plant nursery and garden centre. For other parts of the world click here for their hardiness zones. Here's a few tips to help plants survive winter's heavy hand.
Dry soil: Despite fall rains, dry soil exists where gardens are protected from rain (under eaves and trees) and those in containers. Arid soil reduces plant hardiness and resilience to freezing temperatures. Water before freezing temperatures have the chance to suck even more moisture out of the plants and soil.
Easy on Cutting Back: Perennials that are cut back to ground level have nothing to protect the crown and roots. Cut back stems ot 4 to 6 inches above the ground and mulch.
Easy on the Pruning: Don’t prune trees and shrubs after September as this promotes new tender growth, which is easily killed by frost. This includes hedges btw.
No Nitrogen: Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers (first number highest) as it promotes lush new leaves that are quickly killed by below freezing temperatures.
Winter Protection: Apply a thick lay of mulch (fallen leaves, wood chips) around the bases of evergreen plants.
For medium sized plants, wrap them with old sheets, tablecloths and/or a few layers burlap.
For perennials, cover them entirely with a layer of fallen leaves, an organic mulch, or straw. Don’t use plastic to protect plants as it has no insulating value and does not allow the plant to breathe. For more info, click on Winterize Your Garden.
Protecting Container Plants: Remove any drainage trays underneath the planters. To overwinter planted ones that will not be used for seasonal displays, relocate them to a protected area against the house or sink the pots into the ground. Another option is to insulate roots by wrapping the containers with bubble wrap, Styrofoam, blankets, mats etc.
Select hardy plants one or two hardiness zone lower, therefore if you live in zone 8, like here in southwestern British Columbia, select plants hardy to zone 7 and less. Spruce up existing planters by removing spent plants and replace with plants that don’t mind the cold including winter pansies, ornamental kale, winter heather etc. Include some colourful gourds, tiny pumpkins and attractive branches either deciduous or evergreen. Tuck in some tulips, daffodils, grape hyacinths, crocus, snowdrops and other spring bulbs.
Warm days, cool humid nights, dry soil and morning shade, promotes this prevalent disease. When conditions are right, powdery mildew spores are carried in the wind and rain. A white powdery substance first appears on the new growth. It coats the leaves, blossoms, buds and eventually the entire plant.
To prevent the spread of powdery mildew, remove all the infected foliage and flowers from soil and on the plant. To kill remaining spores on the plant and the soil, spray with either baking soda or milk. Both are organic, non-toxic and they work. For the recipe click on: Powdery Mildew.
Lawns, Lawns, Lawns
If it’s not buried under a layer of snow and the grass is still green and growing then it needs some TLC. Correct autumn maintenance is an important step towards a healthy lawn. Cutting it too short and feeding it lots of nitrogen is a common mistake. To learn what to do click on Lawn Maintenance Seasonal Guide.
Plant new lawns and renovate existing lawns if the ground isn’t frozen. For more click on Lawn Reno, Seed & Sod.
Rake fallen leaves off the lawn and into garden beds or mow over them when they aren’t too deep. Bag them as you go and dump the contents on top of the soil and around plants for a nutritional mulch.
Frost: Keep off the grass when it is frozen as it breaks off the crowns, killings the plants, and certainly don’t mow.
You Don’t Need a Lawn: You don’t have to have a lawn - there are alternatives. From patios to ground covers, the options are many. For more click on Lawn Alternatives.
Lawn Mowers: To store mowers and to prepare them for next year, remove the mower blade to clean and sharpen. Scrape off any caked-on grass on the mower deck. Remove the batteries on cordless mowers. For gas mowers, drain the gas tank, disconnect and clean. Store in a protected, dry location out of the elements.
Research and experience have proven that it’s not a good idea to take too much off roses in the fall. Only remove one quarter of overall growth, no more or make it simple and just remove dead flowers and canes, as well as diseased foliage from the plant and the ground. Cut back overly long stems to prevent the wind from catching the canes, which loosens their roots (windrock).
Tie the canes of climbing roses to their supports or cut them back if you can’t reach. Apply a 3-inch layer of mulch around plants. To protect roses during winter, especially up north, mound a few inches of soil over the plant’s crown. Do you want more roses? Fall is the perfect time of the year to plant them. For more on pruning click on Pruning Roses. To select easy care roses click on Easy Roses. Check out the roses from the Portland International Test Garden here.
Perennials: Just to be clear, herbaceous perennials are plants that are non-woody and they come back year after year. Cut back bee balms (Monarda), garden phlox, peonies, hostas, bearded iris, daylilies, columbine, delphiniums to six inches. Divide overgrown, old and tired Siberian iris, daisies and other perennials, that are no longer producing flowers & leaves in the plant’s centre. Don’t cut back ornamental grasses, and other perennials with attractive seedheads as they add winter interest and provide seeds for the birds. Protect the vulnerable crowns of certain plants by not cutting them back: anise hyssop (Agastache), red-hot pokers (Kniphofia uvaria), garden mums (Chrysanthemum), lungwort (Pulmonaria) and bearded tongues (Penstemon).
Wild Mushrooms (Toadstools): They are part of nature’s recycling crew as they break down any organic matter that’s either on top the soil or within it. They’ll often appear where a tree once grew, shadowing their decomposing roots. When they pop up in the lawn, don't mow them down, as it spreads their spores. Instead, pluck them up and discard them. This ensures that they are not eaten by children and animals, especially dogs, as they seem to like them.
October's arrangement features the last of the flowers of the season. For a numbered guide to the specific flower names and for other arrangements go to Monthly Flower Arrangements
Plant of the month
Common Name: Katsura
Botanical Name: Cercidiphyllum japonicum
Form: oval to rounded canopy
Plant Type: deciduous tree with a single or multi-stemmed trunk
Mature Size: 30’ -50’ x 25’- 30’
Origin: Japan, China
Hardiness Zone: 4 to 8
Foliage: 2-inch heart-shaped opposite each other, finely serrated. Spring leaves are coppery, reddish, purple or pink. They turn bluish green in summer and are grey underneath. In fall they turn gold, orange, yellow and red. Leaves have a red stem (petiole).
Flowers: early spring before leaves emerge, not showy, male & female flowers on separate trees (dioecious).
Fruit: small indistinct curved pods on female trees in summer and fall
Bark: smooth & tan when immature, turns grey, furrowed, shaggy upon maturity
Exposure: full sun for best fall colour
Soil: prefers rich moist organic loam, dislikes arid and sandy soils
Uses: specimen, shade tree, woodland, fall colour, winter gardens
Attracts: butterflies and bees
Invasive Tendencies: none
Tolerates: insects, diseases, deer
Propagation: seed, softwood cuttings
Pruning: not necessary, in late winter after extreme cold has passed – if needed
Problems: dislikes drought conditions, especially when young
If you have the space in your garden and you need a spectacular tree that looks great in every season, especially in autumn, I recommend a Katsura trees, Cercidiphyllum japonicum. It’s a neat and tidy tree that’s very well behaved.
Katsura trees have lots to offer from full oval canopies, nice branching habit, pretty little heart shaped leaves that smell of burnt sugar, caramel, ripe apples or cinnamon when they colour up in the fall. And boy, do they ever put on a fantastic show, with shades of gold, orange, red and yellow – it’s an artist’s paint pallet to envy.
That’s not all this fantastic tree has to offer. In spring their new foliage is a coppery pink that turns to a bluish green with grey undersides in the summer.
If your garden is too sunny, katsuras are an ideal shade tree. Their branches emerge high up in their full canopy with branches that spread to 30 feet at maturity. Their fallen leaves are small, up to 2 inches long, so they are easy to rake if they don’t blow away first. You might not want to rake them though as their golden leaves transform the garden with a blanket of gold and red.
Soil & Planting: Katsuras don’t like dry soil, especially when they are young. Protect them from hot drying winds to prevent moisture loss through their foliage. Provide them with moist, organic rich soil when planting and cover the ground with a 3-inch layer of mulch. Don’t place it against the trunk. Provide a tree bed for existing trees and new ones by removing grass around the base of the tree for a couple of feet or more.
Morphology: Katsura’s claim to fame are their leaves, not their flowers. They are not flashy, nor showy and the female and male flowers are borne on separate trees. In early spring, before the leaves emerge, the female trees bear green flowers up to an inch long with deep red pistils to capture the pollen from male trees. Small banana shaped pods with seeds inside follow. The male flowers are also small but have pink pollen covered stamens that dangle down. Bees and butterflies are attracted to their flowers.
Katsura trees may have one trunk or multiple. Immature trees have a smooth, tan bark that becomes furrowed and somewhat shaggy as the tree matures. When dormant, their naked twigs have distinctive buds that resemble little hooves opposite each other.
Pruning: Katsura’s need very little pruning as their branches are well-spaced and neatly arranged. Remove branches that are too low but do so in late winter after the worst of the season is over. Go easy on the pruning! Only remove a couple of low branches a year, but only to provide clearance.
Cultivars: There are numerous wonderful versions of the katsura, including a weeping katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum 'Pendulum'). It’s very dramatic and grows from 15 to 25 feet. Other smaller varieties include Herkenrode Dwarf, Boyd’s Dwarf and Heronswood Globe. Red Fox is mid-sized, reaching 30 feet with a 16 foot spread. Ruby is a popular cultivar with blue leaves that have a purple tinge. It grows to 30 feet at maturity.
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