The skill level of a gardener can be measured by the appearance of their flower gardens at this time of year. Plants in gardens of the most-skilled look as fresh as a daisy. Unfortunately, for the lesser talented among us, daisies may be the only plants that look fresh. Everything else is insect-chewed, disease-marred or weather-beaten. In case you're wondering, the daisies in my flower garden look like they are suffering from a severe hangover.
Is there anything that can be done to salvage these gardens and embellish our reputations? Yes ... well, at least in terms of the "salvage" part. Start the process by grooming the plants. That means cutting off all spent flowers, except on roses, and all marred foliage. In some cases, that will mean cutting the plants back to ground level. If the plants are annuals, simply yank out the spent plants. At this point, you're probably left with a lot of empty spaces in the garden. Fill in these spaces with colorful fall mums and ornamental cabbage and kale. They will retain their fresh look well into fall. When shopping, keep in mind that these plants are not likely to grow any larger once set out in the garden; so buy the appropriate-sized plants to meet your needs.
Fall chores continue
You'll feel fresh as a daisy after these exercises:
• Seed new lawns or reseed bare spots in lawns this week or forget about it until early next spring. The window for seeding lawns will slam shut this weekend. However, laying sod to repair damaged lawns can be done for several more weeks, perhaps to the end of October if mild weather persists through early fall.
• Plant snowdrops, crocuses and winter aconites as soon after purchasing as possible since the bulbs tend to dry out rapidly. This is true of most so-called minor bulbs.
• Buy daffodils if you're undecided about what spring flowering bulbs to plant. Yes, they are so common, but they are also sturdy, reliable and resilient, and deer, rabbits and mice will not eat them. This is one case where familiarity does not breed contempt.
• Add two tablespoons of bottled lemon juice per quart or one tablespoon per pint when canning tomatoes. The acidity of tomatoes decreases as they mature; adding extra acidity from lemon juice should eliminate potential problems with the bacteria that causes botulism. For more information on food preservation, go the web site of the National Center for Home Food Preservation: http://nchfp.uga.edu/
• Harvest Brussels sprouts by breaking or cutting off the larger sprouts, starting from the lower portions of the stem as needed. Some gardeners like to pinch out the growing tip of Brussels sprouts to get more evenly sized sprouts from bottom to top.
• Be careful not remove the outer skins of onions, shallots, and garlic when storing these vegetables for winter. The papery skins protect the bulbs from dehydration.
• Force Christmas cactus into bloom by providing the plant with an uninterrupted dark period of 14 hours each day until flower buds appear. If you find that difficult to do, keep the plant in a cool location where night-time temperatures range from 50 to 55 degrees F.
• Place leftover flower and vegetable seed packets in a plastic bag or glass jar, along with a drying agent, such as silica gel or a tablespoon of powdered milk wrapped in tissue paper. Store the bag or jar in a cool, dark location.