Suddenly, it's November and a cornucopia of garden chores dot the calendar. The fertilization of fruit trees and shade trees tops the agenda, best done now rather than in early March when the weather is questionable. As long as fall temperatures cooperate, you can make dormant spray programs to vital plants to control overwintering disease and insect problems, including gypsy moths. Everything is now geared toward putting the garden to bed in the best possible manner, and preventing this year's problems from surfacing all over again next year.
First, there is tree fertilization.
If you believe that nature will take care of your trees, remember two weeks ago when a late-afternoon storm swept through the capital area, toppling unhealthy trees by the hundreds.
Trees should be fed now. The only exceptions are evergreens and trees planted since the summer, with both being fertilized next March.
Shade trees that make leaves should receive 10-6-4 inorganic. Maples, oaks and the like fit into this group.
Trees that make flowers should receive 5-10-5 inorganic. Trees falling into this group include dogwood, flowering cherry, all fruit trees (apple, apricot, cherry, nectarine, peach, pear, plum and quince), hawthorn, Bradford pear, purple plum and magnolia.
When you shop, bring home an earth auger so you can drill the holes to feed the tree. Professional augers that fit into the quarter-inch electric drill run almost two feet long, and make holes about 2 1/2 inches in diameter. The wider the hole, the more fertilizer it will hold.
Start by measuring the width, or diameter, of the tree trunk at the soil line, then double the number. For most trees, this is the number of pounds of fertilizer required. For a dogwood with a three-inch trunk diameter, six pounds of 5-10-5 will be needed. For an oak with a 30-inch diameter, 60 pounds of 10-6-4 will be needed.
Feeding roots are found at the drip line, then in toward the trunk a distance of one-third the tree's height. A maple standing 20 feet tall would have feeding roots extending toward the trunk about six feet from the drip line.
If the soil is bare, apply plant food uniformly insidethe drip line, scratching the granules into the top inch of soil. Soak afterward.
If the soil is covered with mulch, you could scatter the appropriate amount of fertilizer over the mulch, starting at the drip line (tips of the outer branches) and working in a short distance toward the trunk.
An empty 12-ounce coffee can, shaken as it is filled, holds 2 1/2 pounds of fertilizer. A two-pound coffee can holds about five pounds of fertilizer.
Having strewn the fertilizer over the mulch, turn on the soaker hose and soak the mulched area for an hour or two to wash the fertilizer toward the roots.
If grass covers the area under the tree, you have to proceed with extreme care, otherwise errant fertilizer will kill the grass within a day or two. This is where the "earth auger" saves the grass while enabling you to feed the tree.
Start by measuring out precisely how much fertilizer a given tree needs. Now, at an angle of about 15 degrees toward the trunk, start drilling holes about six inches beyond the drip line. Drill holes 16 to 20 inches deep, spacing them 20 inches apart as you encircle the tree. Backfill each hole with fertilizer, but do not fill the top four inches of the hole. Top the hole with any soil from the garden.
If you have not used up all the fertilizer prescribed for the tree, move in four inches toward the trunk, split the distance between the two outer holes, then drill a second circle of holes 16 inches apart as you surround the tree. Backfill these holes with fertilizer, but do not fill the top four inches of the hole. Fill holes with garden soil.
Using an oscillating sprinkler or soaker hose, soak the area thoroughly to start washing the nutrients toward the waiting roots. All fertilizer will be absorbed by feeding roots over the next six weeks, the energy being stored in the tree until the sap starts rising when the food will be dispatched to leaf and flower buds as they unfold.
Go easy soaking dogwood trees because they don't take lightly to soaking. The best advice is to put down the soaker hose at the drip line, adjust the flow to where it dribbles from the hose, and let it flow for about five minutes, turning off the hose immediately after. Every-other-day watering for seven to 10 days is all that's needed.
Other priorities for the weekend:
Start lowering the cutting height of the lawn in stages so you reach the low cutting height on the weekend after Thanksgiving. Starting now, lower the cut "one rung" on the wheel adjustment lever each week. By the last weekend of the month, the lawn should be cut at an inch and a half to two inches and no higher.
If you failed to upgrade your lawn in late summer and you will be going on the "latecomer lawn program" shortly, we remind you to bag all clippings from here on. Next weekend, you will attack the weeds so the soil is clean after Thanksgiving when you de-thatch the lawn.
Zoysia lawns have ceased manufacturing chlorophyll and have gone dormant for the winter. Homeowners who dislike the straw-brown color of zoysia for the winter can change all that over the next week or two. Simply dye the lawn green for the winter. The product is "Greenzit," a turfgrass dye used by groundskeepers of professional football stadiums to match the color of turfgrass to the "green color spectrum" of the television camera. Once applied by a hose-end sprayer or sprinkling can, the green dye won't come off until the zoysia resumes growing next April.
If the weather cooperates, try to make the crucial November sprays for disease and insect control.
On nectarine and peach trees, the "peach leaf curl" disease is easily controlled with two applications of lime-sulfur, one in early November and a second in late March. The disease surfaces in late April-May as leaves become disfigured and swollen, then turn a golden yellow before dropping in July. By August, nectarine and peach trees are without foliage.
If you have these trees, get a supply of liquid Orthorix lime-sulfur this weekend. Using the Ortho tree and shrub sprayer, add 10 ounces of lime-sulfur to the jar, add water to the two-gallon mark, move the nozzle deflector out of the way and spray the woody branches of these trees. Forget the trunk, focusing most of the spray toward the ends of branches where the spores are found. The only precautions are that there should be no rain, and the temperature must stay above 40 degrees for a full 24 hours after the treatment. Do the best possible job of spraying to control the disease now, otherwise you will have to apply lime-sulfur in March at least three weeks before the swelling of buds.
To stop scale and gypsy moth eggs from overwintering on trees and shrubs, plan on spraying with Superior Oil while the weather permits. Again, you need 24 hours without rain and temperatures which stay above 40 degrees for the same period.
Because of its viscosity, Superior Oil is far and away the best vehicle for killing eggs. It smothers the egg casing as it flows down the plant, choking off the flow of oxygen and killing the egg shortly after.
Plants benefiting from the spray now include euonymus (likely to have scale every fall), fruit trees, pine, fir, spruce, dwarf evergreens, cotoneaster, hackberry, hemlock, juniper, lilac, maple, mountain laurel, oak, pachysandra, willow and yew.
Using the Ortho tree and shrub sprayer, add five ounces of Superior Oil to the jar, then add water to the two-gallon mark on the jar. For trees, the nozzle deflector should be out of the way; for shrubs, move the deflector in place to diffuse the spray. The time of application doesn't matter here in the fall. If you spray now, scale and gypsy moth eggs won't overwinter. This means trees without problems in April, May and June.
In every case, direct your spray to woody branches and limbs of shrubs and trees where egg clusters are located. Tree crotches offer hospitable, protected areas for depositing eggs, so inspect these areas for eggs. Scale eggs resemble clusters of dirty gray-white snow. Gypsy moth eggs are chamois-colored and deposited in slightly raised clusters about an inch wide and generally an inch and longer in length; each cluster holds upwards of 700 gypsy moth eggs.
Jack Eden is the host of "Over the Garden Fence" Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on WTOP Radio (1500 AM).