Almanac: September–October 2019

by cathym on September 4, 2019

First please take the time to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of autumn. This is a special time not to be missed. Now to work!

Don’t cut back grasses until spring.
Don’t cut back grasses until spring.

Fall is an ideal time to weed. This prevents both perennial and annual weeds from getting a head start in the spring. No time to weed? Cut off and discard the seed heads.

Watering trees and shrubs is as important as watering perennials, especially anything planted this season. They need to be well hydrated going into the winter. Keep all plants watered if it doesn’t rain at least an inch per week.

Allow annuals such as nicotiana, annual poppies, cleome, and Verbena bonariensis to drop seeds in the garden, unless you don’t like them!

Prevent mouse and rabbit damage to thin-barked trees and shrubs by installing a hardware cloth barrier that extends at least two feet above the anticipated snow depth. Cut any grass around the base of trees short to discourage nesting by these critters.

Add compost to your beds to improve soil texture and promote beneficial microbes to prepare the garden for next spring. If you have a compost pile, turn it. 

Late winter is the better time to prune trees and shrubs. Fall pruning cuts may not heal as they enter dormancy.

Move, divide, and share your oversized perennials so you can have one less thing to do next spring. Do this in early fall so the plants can establish roots. This is a good time as energy can go into root production rather than flower production. 

Remove and discard all diseased plant material. Do not place in a compost pile as some fungal spores can winter-over in ground litter and may re-infect plants. Disinfect your pruners after each cut when pruning diseased plants. Spray pruner blades with Lysol, dip in a 10 percent bleach solution, or use alcohol wipes.

Remove and destroy iris foliage to eliminate the eggs of the iris borer.

Mound soil around your roses when the temperature drops. Bring in fresh soil to avoid disturbing roots. 

Leave the seedheads of astilbe, black-eyed Susan, coneflower, daisy, etc. intact to provide food and shelter for wildlife as well as giving winter interest.

Don’t cut back grasses and plants such as red osier dogwood; they add to the beauty of the winter garden. 

Purchase spring bulbs that are unblemished and large for their species. The presence of blue-green mold is not a problem unless it penetrates into the bulb itself.

Choose bulbs like daffodils that perennialize to save both time and money.

Begin planting spring bulbs. You will get better results if you plant when there is a month of 40 degree or above soil temperature (mid-September to mid-October in our area). This allows the bulbs to set strong roots and will give you better blooming.

With some bulbs it’s difficult to tell the top from the bottom. The skin is loose at the top and attached at the bottom. If you can’t tell, plant them sideways

To deter moles, voles and squirrels, put a layer of pea gravel or small-gauge chicken wire between the bulbs and soil surface.

Plant bulbs two to three times as deep as their height and a little deeper for naturalizing varieties.

Dig and store summer blooming tubers such as caladium and elephant ears before frost and tuberous begonias, cannas, and dahlias after foliage is blackened by frost. 

September is the best time to fertilize your lawn and seed a new one. A top dressing of good compost is an ideal natural fertilizer. Overseeding bare spots helps prevent weeds in those areas the following year.

Remember to water the grass seeds regularly to keep the soil moist and choose high quality seed appropriate for your site.

In early September check your lawn for grubs by lifting up about a square foot of sod. If there are more than 10 to12 grubs per square foot you may want to treat for grubs. First identify what type of grub you have so you know the proper treatment. Complete your grub control program by the middle of September. Contact your Cooperative Extension for help in identification and treatment options.

Keep mowing the lawn. Make the last cutting one inch lower than usual to prevent matting and to discourage snow mold.

If the leaves aren’t too thick on your lawn leave them there when you mow; those mulched leaves feed your lawn naturally.

Any time after the first frost through late October is a good time to plant garlic.

Pot up some parsley, chives, oregano, or mints to use indoors. You can also freeze or dry herbs for winter use. Be sure to wash off the plants. 

Pick off the tomato blossoms that won’t have time to develop so the nutrients go into the tomatoes already growing on the vine.

Plant cover crops such as peas or clover as you harvest your vegetables. This will reduce the need for weeding and will add nitrogen to the soil. Another option is to sow a cover crop such as rye or winter wheat in the vegetable garden. Turn it over in the spring.

Dig mature onions on a dry day. Store in well ventilated mesh bags or panty hose.
Plant radish, kale, spinach, and lettuce seeds in early September as your last crops. Extend the season with floating row covers or cold frames.
Pull up hot pepper plants and hang them until the peppers are dry. 

If you had any vegetables with fungal problems, make sure that area is cleaned of all plant debris and avoid planting the same variety in the same spot next year.

Mulch asparagus and strawberries.

Bring in tender perennials such as scented geraniums and rosemary and any annuals you want to overwinter before you turn on the furnace. This cuts down on the shock of moving inside. 

To start annuals for next season, take cuttings from scented geraniums, begonias, strobilanthes, and coleus in early September while the plants are in their prime.

Collect seeds from open pollinated plants such as kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate, Big Max pumpkin, and Brandywine tomatoes. If collecting seeds, be sure to keep them dry and chilled at 35 to 45 degrees.

Plant trees and shrubs now. They will have time to develop roots before winter sets in.

Fallen leaves are one of the most wasted natural resources the home gardener has. They can be chopped and used as a mulch to improve soil texture and to add nutrients. (Get some from your neighbors as well.) 

Small leaves like linden or birch trees can be spread on gardens directly. Larger leaves can be shredded or run over with your lawn mower before spreading. Avoid using black walnut or butternut as they can be toxic to many plants. Excess leaves can be composted for use next spring. They decompose faster if shredded first.

Begin bringing in houseplants that lived outdoors all summer. Wash off with a good spray of soapy water. Check for diseases and insects before bringing inside.

Lay out thick layers of cardboard or newspaper over areas that will become new beds in the spring and cover with mulch or compost. This will kill grasses and/or weeds as they break down making spring efforts easier. This is also a good method of controlling large masses of weeds.

Take pictures of your gardens. Make notes for next year’s gardens now. What worked, what didn’t, what to add, remove, or move etc. (You may think you will remember next year but you probably won’t.)

—Carol Ann Harlos and Lyn Chimera, Erie County Master Gardeners


Almanac: July – August 2019

by cathym on July 25, 2019

Divide and replant bearded irises.

Pinch back chrysanthemums and asters to keep them shorter and bushier. Stake perennials that tend to flop.

Deadhead some perennials and annuals to keep them blooming, others to avoid self-sowing and the plant’s wasting energy on seed production. 

Cut back mounding perennials such as geraniums, pinks, alyssum, creeping phlox, and aubretia when they are finished blooming.

Cut reblooming roses back slightly.

Keep container plants watered and fertilized.

Water newly planted woody plants. Ten to 15 gallons of water is needed weekly when rainfall is less than one inch.

Plan how to protect woodies from deer.

Keep water gardens full.

Deadhead Japanese tree lilacs as much possible to encourage more bloom next year and prevent unwanted seedlings.

Mowing the lawn as high as possible results in a healthier lawn with deeper roots more tolerant of drought and denser turf—this will prevent germination of some weed seeds.

Start some perennials from seed, but plan on overwintering them in a cold frame. 

It’s finally okay to remove narcissus foliage. This is also a good time to move the bulbs, or you can dig them up and let them dry for planting in September.

Move colchicum in early July. If you forced bulbs last winter, remove them from the pots and store them dry and cool for the summer (except for delicate bulbs like snowdrops). Watch out for narcissus bulb fly!

Divide and replant bearded irises. Destroy old or rotten rhizomes or those with iris borers. Do this before Labor Day to allow sufficient time for rerooting.  

Tour private gardens and arboreta. Take your camera and notebook to record ideas.

Mark colors of phlox and daylilies in case you want to propagate and share them. Photograph your garden and make notes of needed changes.

Check viburnums for viburnum leaf beetle (VLB) adults, especially if the shrubs were defoliated by the larvae. Consider a pesticide treatment to save the shrubs. Do NOT cut back branches just because the leaves have been eaten or damaged. Scratch the bark with your fingernail. If it’s green underneath, the branch is alive. Dormant buds under the bark will eventually develop into sprouts and leaves. Snip off and destroy the twigs that contain the VLB eggs. Although the egg-laying sites are most obvious in the fall, one actually has until April to trim the affected twigs.  

This is the last month to fertilize woodies without encouraging tender late growth that may not harden off in time for winter. It’s also the last month to prune woodies—except for dead or diseased wood.

Early in July, emove peas and other early veggies and replace with either quick-growing veggies such as snap beans, cucumbers, summer squash, green onions, beets, kohlrabi, and radishes, or else cool-tolerant, slower-growing veggies such as carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, collards, kale, peas, head and romaine lettuce, and parsley.

After August 1, only plantings of leaf lettuce, spinach, turnips, and radishes can be expected to produce a crop in a normal year in upstate New York—gardens in zone 6 near the lake have another week or two of growing season. Cover newly planted seeds with rowcover to keep them cooler and moist.

Renew the mulch in your veggie garden.  

Keep up with weeding! If you can’t remove all the weeds right away, at least don’t let them go to seed.

Cover blueberry plants with bird netting before birds discover the fruit. If it’s dry, water the plants well.  Use large buckets, with holes drilled in the bottom for slow deep watering and to measure how much you are applying. Before renewing the mulch, do a pH test. If the pH is higher than 5.5, consider broadcasting sulfur on the ground and watering it in before mulching. Your Extension office can advise you how much sulfur to apply based on pH.

Keep tomato branches inside their cages. Remove spotted or yellow leaves (put them in the trash). This will slow down early blight and septoria leaf blight. A layer of fresh mulch may help to interrupt fungus infection.

If you suspect late blight, take leaf samples or pictures to your local Extension office.

Continue to cut off curly garlic scapes as they appear to encourage larger bulbs. 

Pick raspberries every day, especially if the weather is wet or humid. If raspberries or other soft fruits look moist or misshapen, check for the maggots of the two-spotted drosophila fruit fly. Destroy all the bad fruit. If a lot of fruit has been set, you can then use rowcover to keep the fruit flies out, but this will also prevent further pollination. Also look out for the marmorated stink bug.

Keep your food plants weeded, watered, and mulched. Uneven watering may cause blossom end rot of tomatoes. Blueberry bushes are particularly sensitive to drought

Carefully guide melon and squash vines where you want them to go.

Renew or move the strawberry bed. Moving the plants now allows thorough weed removal and enough time to plant a succession crop (see above).

Keep the asparagus bed weeded. You shouldn’t be harvesting any longer. Watch for asparagus beetles.

Maximize basil harvest and prevent blooming by cutting plants back by one-third rather than just plucking leaves. 

Handpick Japanese beetles, Colorado potato beetles, etc. Look for the eggs on undersides of leaves. Use Bt insecticide on cabbage family plants, but remember Bt will also kill the caterpillars of desirable butterflies. Grow extra parsley, dill, or fennel to have more black swallowtails, and leave common milkweed in rough areas for monarch caterpillars.

If you have a lot of apples or crabapples, thinning the fruit may reduce the tendency to biennial bearing that might result.


Continue to water newly planted woodies (see July). Plant evergreens by mid-September in order to establish before winter.

In late August, plant corms of either colchicums or the true autumn crocus (Crocus speciosus, etc.) as soon as they are available.

Nursery stock goes on sale and may be a good moneysaver if it has been well cared for. Score the rootball of pot bound plants with vertical cuts to ensure root growth into the surrounding soil. If rain is insufficient, water weekly. Continue watering until the ground freezes.

In late August, preferably before the end of September, move and/or divide some of the hardier perennials, especially the spring-blooming ones.

Order bulbs for fall planting to get the best selection of varieties. Many spring-blooming bulbs are deer-resistant, such as allium, winter aconite, snowdrop, leucojum (snowflake), Siberian squill, glory-of-the-snow, puschkinia, fritillaria, and Anemone blanda. Grape hyacinths send up fall foliage, but even when it’s browsed that doesn’t seem to affect their vigor.

Keep the lawn mowed high, but if a drought drags on, allow it to go dormant (brown). It will revive when rains resume.

Late August and early September is the best time to renovate a lawn or to seed a new one. 

Start protecting tree trunks from “buck rub” damage.

Late in August, bring in poinsettia and Christmas cactus to get them adapted to indoor conditions. Start exposing them to long nights (short days) for flowerbuds to set. After checking for insects, bring in houseplants before nights cool off too much outside and heating systems start operating. 

In zone 5, August is the last month to plant early broccoli or cauliflower transplants, leaf lettuce, spinach, and turnip.  Protect them from the scorching sun with rowcover or milk crates.

Harvest garlic when the leaves are yellowing. Next you can weed the area and plant a late crop. Rotate garlic, so pick a new spot with lots of sun and good drainage. Sheet compost the new spot now, until planting time in mid-October.

Continue weeding, watering, and mulching as needed. Try not to get leaves wet to prevent spreading disease. Watch closely for tomato/potato late blight.

Keep harvesting beans, basil, okra, cukes, summer squash, eggplant, etc., for plants to keep producing. It’s okay to leave some peppers on the plant to ripen and turn color.

—Pat Curran and the Tompkins County Master Gardeners


Almanac: May – June 2019

by cathym on May 8, 2019

Here come the seedlings

“So much to do, so little time” could be the mantra for this time of the year. How lucky gardeners are whose work is such a joy! 

When buying plants, choose compact, healthy specimens with unopened buds, or plan to remove the flowers before planting so energy goes into establishing good roots. Check for chewing and puncture wounds on both sides of leaves. And yes… read the plant tags. Place plants in the soil at the proper depth. Keep in mind “right plant, right place” to avoid disappointment later. Be sure to spider (spread) out the roots. And don’t forget to try at least one new plant! Consider a native to help pollinators and birds.

Grew plants from seed? Be sure to harden them off and to place collars around them so cut worms don’t make you cry after all your work. Direct-sowing seeds into the garden soil? Be sure to thin the seedlings to prevent crowding and competition for light, water, and food.

Still have foliage from spring bulbs? Leave it so the leaves can re-nourish the bulbs for next year. Your annuals and perennials planted nearby will soon hide them. Want to divide or move your spring bulbs? Do it after the foliage dies.

In early May to early June you can cut back perennials such asphlox, bee balm, sedum, asters, and goldenrod by one-third to one-half. (This is called the “Chelsea Chop,” named after the flower show that takes place at this time in London.) The plants will flower later and be more compact. You might try only cutting back some of them so there are blooms over a longer period of time. While you are pruning you can cut back spring flowering perennials such as pulmonaria, brunnera, and perennial geraniums after they bloom. They will reward you with fresh leaves and sometimes more flowers. And while you are pruning cut back to the ground one-third of the oldest stems of weigela, forsythias, and spiraea. Then remove the wilted seed heads from azaleas and rhododendrons so energy goes to the foliage rather than to the making of seeds.

While you are at it, place stakes next to taller flowering plants or put other supports over them so they can grow up through them without damage to foliage and flowers later in the season. Rethink at least one of your gardens. Begin to make changes now. 

Check the Cornell Recommended Vegetable list for suggested and disease resistant varieties of vegetables and fruits. When the soil is warm, about 50 degrees Fahrenheit (soil, not air!), you will be able to plant tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers (all relatives, by the way) as well as cole crops, beans, and root crops. If May was too warm you can try reseeding spinach. Be sure to try Swiss chard both for its edibility and its beauty. This is also a good time to plant dahlias, gladiolas, lilies, begonias, and cannas.

Continue to cut or snap off your asparagus spears at ground level. Remove rhubarb flower stalks so the plant energy doesn’t go to the seeds. Pull each edible stalk from the base and twist to harvest, but don’t harvest more than half of the stalks. 

Need to move a tree or shrub? Evaluate the new site to make sure it will have the best growing conditions for success: the right light, soil pH, and exposure. Ideally you will have pruned the roots several months ago to encourage the tree or shrub to produce some new feeder roots. Make sure the root ball is not dry and is covered during the move. Prepare the new hole in advance of the move. (See Cornell University Information Bulletin 24 for more information.) Keep newly planted trees, shrubs, vegetables, perennials, and flowers well watered (about one inch per week). This is also a good time to make softwood cuttings, before plant tissue hardens.

Put diatomaceous earth at the base of your hostas. Since slugs can climb up the leaves from the ground you may consider pruning back hosta leaves that arch to touch the ground. 

Still have a lawn? Mow lawn at least three inches high. This encourages deeper, healthier root growth. Leave grass clippings on the lawn toreturn nutrients to the soil. You can skip a spring lawn feeding if desired as the late autumn feeding is far more important. A top dressing of compost is an excellent and natural fertilizer. For optimal pre-emergent crabgrass control, do not apply until soil is close to 60 degrees. Crabgrass doesn’t germinate until the soil temperature two inches deep is between 60 and 64 degrees. Applying when the ground is too cold is a waste of money and chemicals. 

Don’t let your vegetable and garden waste go to waste! If you are not composting this is a good time to start. Consider worm composting for indoors or begin composting outdoors. When it is finished you will be thrilled when adding your compost to all of your garden beds as well as a quarter inch to your lawn.

Thin out excess immature fruit from your fruit trees to ensure fruit of a reasonable size and to keep the trees strong. Then gradually move your houseplants outdoors when night temperatures are above 50 degrees. 

Whew! If you do all this, you will have an incredible garden. 

—Carol Ann Harlos and Lyn Chimera, Master Gardeners, Erie County