Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Cautious Cleanup

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

5 AM and 26.7 degrees here on the hill. This was the kind of temperature I expected a day ago but there's no doubt it's here today. The lawn grass is white and crunchy as I walked Karl the Wonder Dog. The air is crisp and serves as a reminder not to go too far from the back door without a jacket. Karl didn't like cold feet and he headed back to the house with great speed. He can go back to bed but I cannot.

This is the time of year for fall cleanup. It is not necessarily a great sport but one that gardeners accept. Part of my problem is where to start. The Mad Hatter told Alice in Wonderland, "Start at the beginning and when you get to the end, stop." I need a Mad Hatter that says "Start here, sir."

There are a few cautions I suggest to anyone, regardless of where you start. I think they are worth a little consideration. First, put on a good pair of work gloves and keep them on as you progress. Gloves can be like socks if you're not careful and then you have several pairs of lefties or righties but no pairs left. I've ended up at times wearing two different gloves and folks know immediately that I never followed my own suggestions.

One of the nicest annual plants in my book is cleome. I have been growing it for several years and I can't start summer without it. Actually all I do is stop at a greenhouse and buy a couple flats and Gail or Michelle get it into the ground. Although there are many varieties out there now, I always buy the taller variety because I like it interplanted along the split rail fence where all the plants are 2.5 feet and up to 6 feet tall.

Cleome is a good plant because it keeps growing upward and it blooms as it grows. As the individual blossoms fade, a long slender seed pod is formed, adding interest to the overall plant. The plant does reseed but the soil has to be closer to neutral than ours is.

The part most don't know about cleome is that it has a good root system and invisible thorns on the lower stalk. When a gentle tug from the mid-plant doesn't free it from the soil after a hard frost, many people bend over and grab tight and pull in one, quick, thoughtless process. That's fine with good gloves but if you're not careful you'll turn into a sophisticated expletive machine spouting nasties as the thorns prick your hands. Don't try to figure out where the thorns are, just wear good gloves and don't forget.

Cleaning up the garden means cutting down plants and getting them out of the garden. This slows down the spread of disease and eliminates places for the bad inspects to lay eggs, hide and winter over, etc. Some people are big on composting and they try to move everything to the pile. I disagree. Here's an example.

Last week on a local television station, fall clean up was mentioned. The host showed how to do some things and specifically talked about cutting down garden phlox even if they are still blooming. He suggested cutting them to 3"-4" and throwing the stems into the compost pile. That would be a "do not throw" to me.

Modern day phlox have been bred to be more resistant to mildew and other fungal problems but many New England gardens have older varieties which have been passed down. As lovely as they are, many are mildew magnets as these pictures show. These were from a nice lavender unnamed variety (that means I don't know the name!) The older whites are even bigger problems, especially during summers like this one with cold, wet weather early on and into July.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend eliminating them if you have a place at the back of the border or far enough away that the foliage can't be noticed ....but...if you can afford replacement, give it some serious thought. In the meantime, do not put this diseased material in your compost pile. In the first place the stems will take another dinosaur age to break down and the fungus will not cook away no matter how hot the center of your pile measures. Let's just say that when you do your garden clean up, think about where to put diseased materials. Whole hosta plants with virus and lilium stems covered with botrytis are other examples.

Along with plant problems at clean up time, I try to remind people about one insect here in New England. My guess is that it's prevalent in many places now as insects are spreading with ease I don't even want to talk about. This is the short winged blister beetle. It is obvious this time of year. I have been noticing small ones in the half to three quarters of an inch size in the grass now but as they mature as in this picture, they'll be an inch and a quarter long and fat. Blister beetles might attract you to pick one up and look it over or show it to someone. Don't. The name says it all and the blisters you will probably get in a day or so will be a bad memory. Just like poison ivy, not everyone is affected but the fact is the per centage is high so just don't do it. Look with your eyes and leave it at that.

I've got to get going to my other world of work right now but if the weather is favorable you might want to start some garden clean up today. Start at the beginning and when you get to the end, stop.

Gardening thoughts from the mountain above Peacham Pond where darkness prevails and the temperature hasn't budged.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

1 comment:

Digital Flower Pictures said...

I agree about putting the disease plant parts in your compost is a no-no. I am careful with the rose parts as well as the Phlox.

One thing I have been doing during my fall cleanup is cutting down, cleaning the beds and then leaving some leaves around my perennials. It has greatly increased my survival rates.