Season 2 • Episode 20 - October 23, 2023

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You may think that fall is a time to slow down in the garden. The cold breezes and rain showers have returned and, with the darker days, it is easy to say that we’ll just wait until March to return to our outdoor activities. Still, there are a lot of things that you can do in your garden to help it make the transition to winter and prepare it for the distant spring.

Retired Oregon State University Extension Agent, Jan McNeilan, joined us again to fill us in on a few of the projects that we can tackle now between the showers.

She started with clean up. Your vegetable plants and a few of your other garden plants are now dying back and you can get rid of the dead and diseased plants in your garden. If you have diseased plants you will want to throw them in the garbage. If you put them in your compost pile they will just return when you spread that compost out the next spring or summer. You can also walk around your garden and make some changes now that things are going to sleep. Moving plants that have gotten too big or are unhappy in their current location can be at the top of your list. The outside temps may be cold, but the soil temps are still pretty warm and the plants will get a few weeks to acclimate to their new surroundings. If you are walking around make sure to bring in your nearly ripe tomatoes. They can be kept on your kitchen counter and may ripen after a few days. You can also harvest seeds from flowers and vegetables now, to use in your garden next spring. You can leave your root crops in the ground for now and pull them out as you need them in the kitchen. In fact, some root vegetables, like carrots, can get a little sweeter after they have experienced a frost. Fall is also a great time to plant some of those cold-hardy cole crops that will slowly ripen over the winter. Of course, winter gourds and squashes can also be picked and stored in a cool, dry area of your garage so you can enjoy them later too.

Clean up can also take many forms. You can still be a little messy and leave the seed heads from your old perennials for the wildlife to enjoy and piles of stuff around the garden to provide shelter for the smaller critters in your garden. Your leaves can also be used to provide a mulch covering for your garden beds instead of raking them up and sending them to the curb for pick up. Those old leaves are like gold to your plants, helping to replace the nutrients in your soil. You can also plant a cover crop to help restore nutrients to your garden. Cover crops, like clovers, peas and vetch, are called ‘green mulch’ for the natural elements they return to the soil.

If you have a lawn that needs to be rejuvenated you have to do it before it gets too cold. The seed needs to be warm and kept moist to germinate and grow, but if you get a chance it could help you start the spring season with some new grass to enjoy. You can also add a fall fertilizer to your lawn now. The fall mixes are formulated to help strengthen roots for a quicker and healthier start to your grass for the spring. You can also do a soil sample now too. That will tell you if you even need to use a fertilizer in your garden, or if you have enough nutrients there already.

Fall can be a time for pruning, too. Remove the dead, diseased and crossing branches to prevent them from falling and damaging your garden or home in the winter. If you are unsure about what to cut and where to cut, contact a certified and bonded arborist. If you’ve had your trees thinned a few years ago, it may be time to do it again. You can also get your schedule together for your late winter dormant spraying. Different trees and shrubs may require spraying at different times. Find out what your plants require and then put dates in your calendar to remember to spray at the correct time. You can also do a first cut to your roses in the fall. Cutting them down to waist high will keep them from whipping around in the wind. Your next big ‘hard’ pruning on your roses will be in February or March.

Pest control can also take place now, especially when it comes to slugs in your garden. Baiting for -- and getting rid of -- slugs will prevent them from laying eggs that will create slug problems in the spring. The reduction of the population now will mean fewer slugs five months from now.

After a break we had a bunch of garden myths that Jan also wanted to talk about. One of them deals with the use of lime in the garden. Unless you know that you have a problem with pH in your soil, there is a myth that using lime in your lawn will help control moss. It doesn’t. Moss thrives in our climate due to a couple of factors: shade and moisture. Lime doesn’t do much to deter that. However, adding lime or calcium to your tomatoes when planting them in the spring can help prevent ‘Blossom End Rot’. The lime will sweeten your soil, making it less acidic. On the other end of the spectrum are the people who want to add wood chips or pine needles to their soil to help acid-loving plants. That doesn’t work well either. It is best to use a product that contains a more concentrated mix of minerals and nutrients to help with that. What about controlling the height of a tall tree by topping it? If you top a tree it won’t stop it from growing. What may happen is that you may reshape the tree away from its natural form and that may cause problems in the future. This may be caused by the tree growing in a different direction, creating weak branching, or a weaker structure.

Another myth involves compost. Can you add too much? Not really, if you can incorporate it into your garden beds, being careful to not pile it up around the base of your trees and shrubs. If you pile it around the trunk of plants it will cause rot to the base. Also, do bee houses benefit bees? The short answer is yes. However, a majority of your native bees are ground dwellers and so you should be aware of that and try to keep a few spots in your garden a little messy to avoid disturbing their homes. The next one was about tree roots. Some think that tree roots extend out only to the drip line of the tree. The drip line is the line marking the extent of the foliage from a tree. The edge of the tree where water drips down. However the root system can grow much further than that. This can determine where you should water and fertilize your plants. One of the most popular myths involves Epsom salts and using it on your plants, including tomatoes and roses. Does it work? Possibly. It is mainly magnesium and your plants may benefit from using it in your garden, or they may not. If you are not throwing an excessive amount of Epsom salts out on your plants, and it isn’t causing any harm, then continue to do it if you think it works. Remember some home remedies can do harm to your garden if they are untested. Commercially available products generally have to be tested to be considered safe in their recommended dosages. That is why they are considered safe and effective for use in your garden.

Now, there are many more myths out there and if you ever have questions about garden myths or tall tales, contact your local university sponsored Extension Service or local garden center help desk.

We finished this podcast talking about our upcoming Garden Time tour to Spain and Portugal in September and October of 2024. If you would like to join us on this incredible trip, check out our website and click on the little airplane at the bottom of the page. Or go directly to the tour page, here.

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