Lowenfels: Slow end of gardening season bodes well for next years fruits and flowers

GardeningSeptember 25, 2013 

It's hard for Alaska gardeners to shut things down, especially when the frost is late in coming and the leaves are so slow in turning yellow. It's tempting to think that this year it really will be our turn and we won't have a winter. Don't bet on it. Every day, even those unseasonably nice ones, we are getting closer and closer to the end of the season.

First, the good news. The longer we can go without a deep frost and the longer the leaves remain on the trees, shrubs and perennials the better. This is because these plants have, for the most part, already blossomed and produced seeds. Now they are "simply" (and if you read "Teaming With Nutrients" you will understand that this is not really simple) producing sugars and turning them into starch which will be stored primarily in the roots so that the plant can get a good start next spring, even before leaves are present and photosynthesizing new sugars for growth.

So not only is the soil still unthawed, allowing for root growth and microbial activity, but plants are getting to feed themselves without much activity to "rob them" of that food. I am going to go out on a limb here, no pun intended, and predict robust fruits and flowers from perennials, trees and shrubs next year, assuming we don't have crazy freezes and thawing like we did last year.

Ah, but you want to know about this year. Some are concerned about the browning of needles on evergreens, for example. This is a natural and if it is only up to 15 percent or so of the needles, don't worry about it. It is a good idea to keep the fallen needles under the tree from whence they came. The tree is feeding itself.

Next, this is pretty much the last call to bring in growing plants. This needs to be gradual, both so the plant survives the shift indoors and so you can catch the slugs and other critters that may be trying to come inside on your plants and in their soils. It is best to isolate them, preferably in a garage and under lights. After a couple of weeks, you will know what is going on with them and can act accordingly.

It is time to get the potatoes and the Brussels sprouts. They are finished and they are just too tempting for the moose that are running out of other things in your yard that they like to eat. Yes, Virginia, moose will eat potatoes as well as Brussels sprouts. Ours have developed very sophisticated tastes over the years.

What to do about lawns? I cut mine short the last few times of the season. Well, not too short, but there is no reason to leave long blades. They don't protect the roots and will simply die back. Might as well mulch 'em up with the leaves that fall and feed the grass plants. Don't waste your time or money putting down fall fertilizer. What for?

You might consider collecting seeds from perennials and wildflowers this weekend. Folks are always asking me what to do with them. I always remind them that these plants don't grow indoors. They drop seeds that winter over and germinate in the spring. Duplicate nature. Drop the seeds into a flat or container plant them in the garden now so they can "vernalize" or be properly chilled so that they can germinate next year.

Obviously, the same goes for weeds and spreading-by-seeds perennials, except that you want to pick those seeds and not let them fall to the ground and spend the winter. Get them and toss them out. This, along with a good layer of mulch, is the best way to limit weeding next year.

Finally, speaking of mulch, in addition to keeping your leaves to use, don't let your neighbors' go to waste. If they are foolish enough to rake theirs up and bag them for collection, then so be it. Pick them up and use them in your yard. Mulch perennials, trees and shrubs. Then make sure you have extra bags to apply additional mulch next spring and to use on your compost pile next summer.

Jeff Lowenfels' bestselling books are available at tinyurl.com/teamingwithmicrobes and tinyurl.com/teamingwithnutrients.

Garden calendar

HOSES: DON'T FORGET TO DISCONNECT YOUR HOSES AND ALL ATTACHMENTS FROM OUTDOOR FAUCETS.

PICK UP STUFF: GET TOOLS, POTS, ETC., BEFORE THEY ARE COVERED WITH LEAVES AND STICKING SNOW.

BIRD FEEDERS: IT IS WAY TOO EARLY TO PUT YOURS OUT. THE BEARS ARE STILL ROAMING. AFTER HALLOWEEN, MAYBE.

LIGHTS: GET YOUR INDOOR LIGHTS SET UP NOW. WE HAVE PASSED THE FALL EQUINOX.

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