Almanac: November–December 2019

by cathym on November 1, 2019

Drain and store hoses
Photo: Jane Milliman

One of the wonderful things about gardening and raising plants is there are things to do in every season … a time to sow, a time to reap,and as fall ends and winter rolls around … still more to do. Some planting and reaping continues. This is the time to get the remainder of any spring bulbs (tulips, daffodils, crocus, hyacinths, and snowdrops) in the ground before it freezes. It’s also a great time to root-divide and plant perennials; plant roses, azaleas, and other shrubs; and establish rhubarb and/or asparagus beds—first prepare the bed/s, and then set the plant crowns under soil.

Now is the time to plant tree seedlings and shrubs, as they enter dormancy. I have potted apple, chestnut, aronia, and elderberry first-year seedlings ready to go into the ground, but the same goes for currants, raspberries, and others. Having waited for dormancy, I avoided the extensive watering that would have been required if I planted them earlier. For those plant seeds needing cold stratification, you’re on schedule to take your nut seeds (oak, chestnut, hazelnut, etc.), fruit tree seeds, and some berry seeds and get them planted in potting media. Place planted containers and trays outdoors, (covered with hardware cloth if squirrels might be tempted in your yard) Since they are outside, the cold winter weather will help soften up the nut seed coat, allowing them to sprout for spring.

If you plan on buying a live Christmas tree for the holidays, dig your hole before the ground freezes. Cover the removed soil to insulate it, so you can place it back in the hole when you plant the tree after the holidays.

Bring potted plants that will not survive the winter indoors as house plants (hearty geraniums, begonias, fuchsia, etc.). Potted tender perennials such as lavender and rosemary can also be kept in the garage or basement where temperatures stay above 32 degrees.

Time to harvest! After we have had a few frosts but before the ground freezes solid, turnips, parsnips, Brussel sprouts, and carrots may be harvested and will be as sweet tasting as they can be. This is the time to finalize clean-up and organization of the root cellar, as well as to can and preserve your remaining harvest. Check stored onions and potatoes periodically during the months ahead, removing any damaged or rotting fruit. Still, for those who want to extend the season, it’s time to set up cold frames and get your winter hardy greens (spinach, kale, and such) going in your greenhouse. As they are tropical perennials, you may even wish to bring some small pepper plants right into the house, where they may produce fruit all winter. Lift dahlia tubers, begonias, and gladiolus corms to store them in a dry and cool location over the winter, making sure to remove any dead foliage before storing.

For many gardeners, November and December is when to transition from growing to care and maintenance—this is the time to winterize your garden. Adding organic matter to beds and blending it in is important. You can also spread fresh manure over the surface of your vegetable beds to rot down over the winter months. Cut back and prune out any diseased or infested foliage. When cleaning up, make sure any refuse from any diseased plants is disposed of; do not put it into your compost, as typically home compost piles do not get hot enough to destroy pathogens. With crops removed and beds bare, it’s a good time to take any necessary soil tests.

Collect leaves, hay, etc., to either spread as mulch orto add to your compost piles. When mulching young trees, avoid putting the mulch directly next to the base of the tree, thereby stymying rodents’ easy access. Keep mulch at least two to three inches away from the tree trunk. Shielding the tree with wire mesh guards, tree tube, or some form of trunk protection is also critical in preventing mice, voles or rabbits from girdling and killing young trees. Remember, deer will be looking for young trees, evergreens, and shrubs to browse in the winter snow, so consider more substantial protection. Mowing lawns low close to your shrubs and young trees will also help prevent damage from rodents, as they avoid open, exposed spaces. Protect roses by mounding soil around the crown and covering the bud union. Tie down climbing rose canes to protect them from freezing winds. Before the snow turns everything white, aerating your lawn is a good idea, as well as a final mowing with the blade set high.

This is maintenance time for garden equipment, when hoses are drained, tools are cleaned, and all are appropriately stored for winter. Some tools, especially hoes and your handy scythe, need sharpening. Sharpening lawn mower blades before storage helps set you up to be ready for spring. It’s also inventory time, wherein you gaze across your garden and landscape, snap a few pictures, and ask yourself what worked, what didn’t work, and what would you like to do differently next year.

For further gardening advice contact your local Extension office and ask for the Master Gardener volunteers help line.

—John Slifka, CCE Oneida County Master Gardener Volunteer


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