Now that autumn has officially arrived, a lengthening list of garden chores awaits your attention. Aspens have already dropped their foliage, a harbinger of things to come. Some insects are bedding down for the winter, including the blueberry mite that has already found a nitch on a stalk for the winter. Around the border of the house, crickets and spiders are but two members of the group awaiting a chance to winter indoors.
Then there are the welcome events of fall. Consider what's happening to the Bougainvillea and New Guinea impatiens; they're flowering now because on Wednesday and Thursday the sun was directly above the equator and the length of day and night were equal. Only when this occurs do these plants flower, so that accounts for the happenings of the last 48 hours. Enjoy them while the blossoms last.
As for chrysanthemums, they too have opened their blossoms in the last few hours for the same reason. Mums develop buds after the plant has witnessed the longest day-shortest night, but the buds won't open until days and nights are of equal length. That explains why the blossoms are unfolding by the thousands today. Cared for properly, the flowers will continue through the last days of November.
If you didn't grow mums this summer, don't feel left out. Garden shops have mums by the thousands ready to be planted outdoors, stashed in showy outdoor containers, or displayed indoors. Shop for the best selection. Next week's column will explore mums and how best to care for them.
However, the main event this weekend is taking stock of your propagation efforts earlier in the year and transplanting those cuttings that rooted in the garden.
Begin by dousing the plants with Safer's insecticidal soap, spraying tops and bottoms of leaves as well as stems and branches. Ordinarily, you wouldn't worry about bug-proofing these plants, but since lacebugs could well be camping on the azaleas, the spray is advisable. Afterward, check plants carefully to find the healthy ones; they will be transplanted now. But those that fared poorly this summer won't be moved until next April. Plants with extensive leaf growth should be the first ones moved.
Next, choose the best site to which to move the rooted cutting. Azaleas prefer morning sun, afternoon shade and an acid soil with a pH of 4.5 to 5; in full sun next to the foundation of the house, azaleas will need spring and fall applications of iron sulfate (ferrous sulfate) to perform well year after year. Forsythia prefers sweet soil but will do well in acid soil if given enough time. Lilac and viburnum are sun worshipers in sweet soil, but they will also prosper in late afternoon shade.
Dig the new holes first, six inches wide by six inches deep. Discard all soil taken up, then put down an inch or two layer of sharp sand (builder's sand, washed sand) at the base of the hole. On the side, mix equal amounts of sharp sand and peat humus so it's ready when you make the move.
For transplanting, dig a circle around the plant about eight inches away from the trunk, then go deeper with the shovel. Hair roots will sever as the plant is spaded from the soil, but the loss is temporary. Move the plant to the new hole, adding some of the sand-peat humus mixture to the hole so that the plant is level with the adjoining soil. Flood the hole with a half-gallon of water, then move on to your next transplant. When healthy plants have been moved, soak again. Don't mulch the soil, because warm October temperatures will trigger continued root growth. Water plants every other day up to mid-October, then soak once a week up to December when the ground freezes. Mulch all plants (four-inch covering) after New Year's Day.
Gardeners who elected not to grow new shrubs in the spring can choose from a potpourri of garden tasks and opportunities:
You still have time to salvage annuals from the bedding garden. Beyond those mentioned last week, you can also pot dwarf marigold, dwarf zinnia, gerbera, calendula, sweet alyssum, petunia and strawflower. Herbs such as rosemary, thyme and winter savory may be spaded, then potted up right away. Grow them outdoors in a sunny, sheltered spot for a week or two before moving indoors.
Save geraniums and impatiens this weekend. Prune geraniums to leave stalks about three or four inches tall; remove all foliage and flowers. Impatiens are pruned similarly, but stalks should be five to six inches high.
Spade plants from the soil, placing them in a large plastic trash can filled with water. Swish the plants around so the water washes the roots free of soil.
Next, get a large portable tub filling it with sphagnum peat moss to the top. To a gallon of hot water, add four ounces of liquid Woolite or a mild dishwashing detergent, then pour this over the peat moss in the tub. The peat will wet quickly, but use your hands to work the peat moss into the water; if needed, add more hot water so the peat is wet. Now plant your pruned-back geraniums and impatiens in the moist peat moss; crowd the plants so everything fits into the tub, then move the tub to a cool, dark corner of the basement.
Write down the dates for every three weeks from the day the plants are planted in the tub, and tape the sheet to the wall of the stairs leading to the basement. Every three weeks, pour hot water over the peat moss to keep the roots barely alive over the winter. Geraniums will be retrieved in early March, impatiens a month later.
Iris tubers can be split and divided now, then reset in the garden. Make sure each section has at least one fan, dusting the exposed tissue with Captan as you plant the sections. The inner core should be cut away.
Spray woody trunks and branches of blueberry plants with superior oil to stop the blueberry mite from overwintering and laying eggs next April. Spray when no rain is in the forecast. The only superior oil products available here are Rockland dormant oil and Security dormant oil.
If you have room, plant pansies now so you can enjoy splendid colors next spring. Water the flats well when you get them home and remember to plant them within a short time.
Improve the soil by working in sharp sand and composted cow manure, plus a little ground limestone. Space pansies 12 to 14 inches apart. Using a trowel, dig a hole two inches deep, add a tablespoon or two of composted cow manure, then set your pansy in the hole. A light tamping of the soil finishes the job. Put a liberal amount of composted cow manure on the soil, hose down the plants, and the pansies are set. After flowering next year, pansies will be spaded and replaced with summer annuals.
Dogwood trees that were neglected this summer are showing distress foliage right now. Such dogwoods have brown leaves, cupped upward, and tinged with red. The leaves warn you to check further. Are the gray-white "buttons" in place at the tips of the outer branches? If so, count your blessings. The buttons mean that there was sufficient energy in the dogwood during the August drought for the dormant buds to develop; the buttons are the late April dogwood blossoms. If no buttons are showing, the summer neglect has taken its toll. Soak the tree once a week for 60 minutes for the rest of the year, using a soaker hose encircling the dogwood below the tips of the outer branches.
Did you renovate your lawn? Were you watering when it didn't rain? That explains why you find circular patches of dead grass on the lawn, the result of excessive watering in warm temperatures last week. The problem is brown patch. Discontinue supplemental watering to arrest the disease. If patches enlarge, treat with Daconil 2787 or wettable powder Zineb. Cut the good grass first, the diseased grass last and bag the clippings. Jack Eden hosts "Over the Garden Fence" Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on WTOP Radio (1500 AM).