With leafdrop only having begun, partly the result of sparse September rainfall followed by balmy October temperatures, it is much too soon to fertilize shade and fruit trees.
By the last weekend of October, leafdrop usually is far enough along to permit tree fertilization, but this month is the exception.
Few of us will decry the warm temperatures and the delayed arrival of the first frost. In all probability, trees should be fed next weekend, so make the most of the pause in the garden schedule to tackle chores that may have been overlooked.
Mid-fall is a perfect time to make your supplemental application of 0-0-50 sulfate of potash to the lawn. If you have been applying IBDU Turf Assurance this year, each treatment has also made some 0-0-50 available to the turfgrass, but over the course of the year there should be an extra treatment of sulfate of potash by itself. The reason: eight pounds of potash per 1,000 square feet should be applied each year, which is twice the amount of nitrogen put down over 12 months.
Three applications of Turf Assurance approaches six pounds of potash, therefore the supplemental application is best provided now.
Pick up a large bag of 0-0-50, then target your application sometime over the next week. Try to schedule the treatment before it rains, otherwise you will have to take out the hose and soak the lawn thoroughly.
If you have used a different lawn fertilization program, the potash application here in the fall is even more of a priority.
Having chilled your Thanksgiving or Christmas cactus sometime over the past week, you are now assured of having flowers in time for Christmas.
So much for the timetable, but now you have to take care of the menial details to support the plant over the next eight weeks. For this, keep the plant in bright indirect sunlight. Roomtemperatures should be in the 60s and 70s to assure full development of the buds before the holidays. Wet the soil every 14 days, keeping a record so you know when to moisten the soil next. But instead of water, use Peters 20-20-20 plant food every two weeks.
Wetting the soil is no easy matter since the root ball will be dry and will have shrunken and pulled away from the wall of the pot.
To moisten the soil, use a plastic dishpan, placing two bricks or pieces of wood in the pan, then the plant over the objects. Provide a steady flow of fertilizer into the pot, pouring as much as a half-gallon or as much as is needed to wet the root ball.
As you pour, the liquid will run to the side, then down the wall of the pot and into the dishpan. Even with fluid pouring into the dishpan, continue pouring fertilizer over the soil at the top so that it moistens the root ball from top to bottom; the very center of the ball is the last part to wet, so have patience.
Let the plant drain for 15 minutes, then return the plant to the indirect sunlight. Put a funnel into the plastic milk jug, then pour the residue of fertilizer in the dishpan into the jug. Fertilize other holiday cactus plants the same way every two weeks.
If you do not have a holiday cactus, visit a garden shop. If you buy one and start chilling the plant, you can take credit for forcing the blossoms to develop.
You should have discontinued planting perennials by now. Plants set into the bedding garden this fall should receive periodic soakings in November to supplement rainfall. Normal November precipitation is 2.82 inches. Defer any dividing of spring-flowering perennials until the last days of March or the first week of April.
If you captured dogwood seeds earlier this month, dry them thoroughly by scattering them atop aluminum foil placed on a cookie sheet and thrust into the oven after you've turned off the heat. Residue oven heat will dry the seeds thoroughly, then place the seeds in a plastic sandwich bag and place it in a rubber-sealed jar. Before closing the cover, add a fresh packet of silica gel to the jar. Refrigerate the jar over the winter. The same scenario applies to storing holly and taxus seeds, but in separate plastic bags.
If you buy pumpkins this weekend for Halloween, save the seeds. Wash them in a bucket of water to remove the pulp, then dry the seeds in the same way as for dogwood seeds. Pumpkin seeds are a delicacy for birds, especially when mixed with oatmeal and bacon fat.
Fuchsias are really on their last legs. The flowers are withering, so force the plants to go dormant. Wet the soil first. Put the pot in the kitchen sink or utility tub, then moisten the soil with warm water, letting the pot drain for 15 minutes. Next, put the plant in a cool, dark spot on the basement floor. Temperatures should consistently stay below 60, even into the 50s at times.
Upstairs, take a large sheet of newspaper, write "fuchsia" at the top, then count off 18-day sequences from the calendar and jot them down on the paper as reminders when the fuchsias need to be watered. From the day the plants go to the basement, they should be moistened with warm water every 18 days.
Carry the schedule through the end of February when the fuchsias will be resurrected from dormancy. Tape the paper to the side wall of the stairway leading to the basement as your reminder for fuchsia watering.
Alas, your hibiscus is down to its last flower or two, a signal that it, too, would welcome a rest for the late fall and winter. The plant has specific needs, so seek out the proper environment for the hibiscus to overwinter.
The priority is temperature and must be between 54 and 58 degrees from now through late February, in which case the hibiscus will gladly retain its leaves all winter long. If room temperatures exceed 58, the plant will soon enough drop its leaves. By late February, there will be no leaves left. If temperatures drop below 54, roots normally start rotting, in which case you may lose the hibiscus entirely by spring. Don't guess at storage temperatures; consider using a maximum-minimum temperature thermometer that pinpoints the variables over a 24-hour cycle.
Indirect light is satisfactory, so windows in the basement will do. As for watering, let the soil go dry an extra day before wetting the soil again. Rest your finger on top of the soil. If you sense the soil starting to dry, simply add water the next day. Apply no plant food to the hibiscus from here on.
Following the same pattern, container-grown lantana has been doing poorly of late. Moved indoors in September to a south-facing window, the plant held onto its foliage for some time, but then the leaves started dropping one by one. Not an accident, foliage loss is a telltale sign that the lantana should be allowed to go dormant for the winter.
Move the plant to a cool, dark corner of the basement on the floor, then maintain the 18-day watering schedule specified above for fuchsias.
Considering the difficulty some may have in moving the lantana upstairs every 18 days, you may want to use the plastic dishpan watering method recommended for the holiday cactus above.
This makes lantana care fairly easy and accommodating. Lantana will be resurrected early next March to resume growing.
Keep brush and grass cut low around the house foundation, otherwise determined crickets will find their way into the house. Insecticides aren't needed -- just weekly trimmings.
Tubers for begonias, canna lilies and dahlias shouldn't be lifted from the garden just yet, probably not for another three or four weeks.
Frost should be allowed to blacken the leaves thoroughly, which also conditions the tubers for the dormant cycle.
Plan on spading tubers in late November, drying tubers thoroughly before processing for winter storage.
Jack Eden is the host of "Over the Garden Fence" Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on WTOP Radio (1500 AM).