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Gardening Tips and Tricks for Late Autumn--Part Two
Karen Cole-Peralta

Watering Your Lawn and Garden

You can't forget about watering in the middle of fall. The summer's long over, but proper moisture now is key to your plants' survival over the cold winter months. You're likely to hear two pieces of advice on watering. One is that you should give established plants an inch of water per week, whether from rain or irrigation. The other is that personal observation of your own garden is the only way to judge how much water it needs. One fact about which there is more agreement: the ideal is to maintain constant moisture, not a cycle of wet soil followed by dry soil.

Although overwatering can be as big a problem as underwatering, most gardeners err on the side of too little. Your needs will vary through the year depending on the rate of evapotranspiration in your garden. Evapotranspiration refers to the two ways that plants lose water. There's evaporation, the loss of water to the air from soil, water and other surfaces. Then the other way is called transpiration, or water lost primarily from the leaves and stems of the plants. You can often obtain evapotranspiration rates for local areas from water departments and other agencies. You will see a graphic description of how a plant's natural need for water changes during the growing season.

In the meantime, keep these pointers in mind:

1) Water when it's needed, not according to the calendar. Check the top six inches of the soil. If it's dry and falls apart easily, water. Your plants will also show signs that they need water. Wilting, curling or brown leaves mean that your plants may lack adequate water. Meanwhile, bear in mind that excess water creates a lack of oxygen in plants, making them show similar symptoms to underwatering.

2) Water slowly, not more than one-half inch of water per hour. Too much water can be lost to runoff. This is why handheld watering cans or handheld hoses generally work only for watering small areas.

3) Water deeply. With established vegetables and flowers, six inches is a minimum. With trees and shrubs, water one to two feet or more. Shallow watering does more harm than good; it discourages plants from developing the deep roots they need to find their own water. Except when you are watering seedlings, soil should never be wet only in the top layer.

4) Water in the morning, never during the hottest part of the day. Too much water may be lost to evaporation. Watering in the evening sometimes causes problems in humid climates, particularly with overhead watering, which wets all the foliage. Plants that remain wet at night sometimes come down with disease and fungal growth.

5) Don't allow runoff. On heavy clay soil, one inch of water will probably cause runoff. At the first sign that water is not penetrating the soil, turn it off. Irrigate in an hour or so, after the initial water has penetrated.

Building a Bin and Making Your Own Compost

A bin will contain your compost pile and make it more attractive as well as keep it from spilling or blowing over into your yard. A circular or square structure can be made from fencing wire. The idea is to push the compost material together to make it heat up and rot properly. The bin should be at least three feet wide and three feet deep to provide enough space for the spreading material. Use untreated wood or metal fence posts for the corners and wrap sturdy wire fencing around them. The fence mesh should be small enough that rotting materials won't fall out. When the compost is ready, unwind the wire and scoop from the bottom of the pile. Then re-pile the undecomposed material and wrap the wire back around the heap.

It's easy to cook up your own pile. At first, layer grass clippings with a dash of leaves and twigs to create a concoction that turns into humus, the best plant food. Added ingredients for the compost comes from everyday waste in the kitchen and yard. But avoid any items that ruin your compost. Use green materials such as fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells, coffee grounds, and grass and plant clippings; and brown materials, such as leaves, wood and bark chips, shredded newspaper, straw and sawdust from untreated wood. Avoid using any meat, oil, fat, grease, diseased plants, sawdust or chips from pressure-treated wood, dog or cat feces, weeds that go to seed or dairy products. These can befoul, spoil and make smelly and rancid a perfectly good productive compost heap.

There are two types of composting: cold and hot. Cold composting is as simple as piling up your yard waste or taking out the organic materials in your trash such as fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds or egg shells and then piling them in your yard. Over the course of a year or so, the material will decompose. Hot composting is for the more serious gardener; you'll get compost in one to three months during warm weather. Four ingredients are required for fast-cooking hot compost: nitrogen, carbon, air and water. These items feed microorganisms, which speed up the process of decay.

To create your own organic hot-compost heap, wait until you have enough material to make a pile that's three feet deep. To ensure an even composition, first create alternating four-inch layers of green and brown materials. Green materials such as vegetable scraps, grass clippings and plant trimmings create nitrogen. Brown materials such as leaves, shredded newspaper and twigs create carbon. Sprinkle water over the pile regularly so it has the consistency of a damp sponge. Don't add too much, or the microorganisms will become waterlogged and won't heat the pile.

During the growing season, you should provide the pile with oxygen by turning it once a week with a pitchfork. The best time is when the center of the pile feels very warm. Stirring up the pile helps it cook faster and prevents material from becoming matted down and developing a bad odor. At this point, the layers have served their purpose of creating equal amounts of green and brown materials throughout the pile. Stir it thoroughly, turning it over repeatedly. When the compost no longer gives off heat and becomes dry, brown and crumbly, it's fully cooked and ready to feed to your garden.

Concentrated Pest Control

Slugs and other pests don't disappear as the weather gets cooler. You'll find them at all life stages in October, from eggs to youngsters and adults. For slugs, use whatever measures you prefer, salt, slug bait or saucers of beer to eliminate them. It's best to catch them at the early stages to stop the reproduction cycle. And keep the ground well-raked and tidied to reduce their natural habitat.

Here's a brief list of common garden pests and how to control them:

Thrips: Adult thrips are about one-sixteenth-inch long and have dark bodies with four fringed wings. Their size makes them difficult to detect in the garden. They attack young leaves, flower stalks and buds. Spray young foliage, developing buds and the soil around the bush with an insecticide containing acephate.

Cane borer: This insect is the maggot of the eggs laid by sawflies or carpenter bees in the freshly-cut cane of the rose after pruning. One telltale sign is a neatly-punctured hole visible on the top of the cane. To remove the pest, cut several inches down the cane until there are no more signs of the maggot or pith-eaten core. Seal all pruning cuts with pruning sealer.

Japanese beetle, Fuller rose beetle: These will eat parts of the foliage and sometimes the flowers. Pick beetles off the bush by hand. Or spray foliage and flowers with an insecticide containing acepate or malathion.

Leaf miner: This insect can be spotted on foliage by the appearance of irregular white chain-like blisters containing its grub. Remove foliage and discard it to prevent further infestation.

Spittle bug: This small, greenish-yellow insect hides inside a circular mass of white foam on the surface of new stems, usually during the development of the first bloom cycle in early spring. Spray a jet of water to remove the foam and the insect.

Roseslug: When you see new foliage with a skeletonized pattern, indicating that it has been eaten, chances are it's the roseslug. Remove the infected foliage and spray with insecticidal soap or an insecticide that contains acephate.

Weed Whacking Made Easy

Actually, this is a slight exaggeration. There's no rest for the wicked. Keep staying ahead of your nasty weeds all this and next month. They serve as Home Sweet Home for all manner of pests and bugs, and destroying them before they flower and seed will save you much work in the future.

Preparation is the key. All gardeners know what it's like to have their yards invaded by unwelcome plants. Although there's no really easy way to banish weeds, there are a few solid techniques you can use to reclaim your turf. At the very least, you can limit this utmost in hostile takeovers.

Here is a simple outline of effective battle strategies you can use in the fall:

1) Be a mulching maniac. Mulch acts as a suffocating blanket by preventing light from reaching weed seeds. At the same time, it holds moisture for your plants and provides nutrients for your soil as it decomposes. Apply coarse mulch, such as bark or wood chips, directly onto soil. Leaves, grass clippings, or straw work better as a weed deterrent with a separating layer of newspaper, cardboard or fabric between them and the soil.

2) Water those weeds. Pulling weeds is easier and more efficient when the soil is moist. You are more likely to get the whole root system, and your yanking won't disturb surrounding plants as much either. No rain? Turn on the sprinkler or even water individual weeds, leave for a few hours and then get your hands dirty. Just ignore the strange looks from your neighbors as you lovingly water your weeds.

3) Cut weeds down in their prime. Weeds love open soil. But if you till or cultivate and then wait to plant, you can outmaneuver the weeds. Till the ground at least twice before you plant. Your first digging will bring dormant weed seeds to the surface where they can germinate. Watch and wait for a few weeks until they begin to grow. Then slice up the weeds again with a tiller or a hoe, only don't dig as deep. Now it should be safe to put precious plants into the soil.

Food for Thought

In addition to performing these autumnal lawn and garden duties, you may want to harvest your fall vegetables such as the perennial squashes. Do a taste test and harvest them when flavor is at its peak. If you'd like to extend the harvest of carrots, turnips and other root vegetables, leave some in the ground to mulch as the weather gets colder. Early next month, before temperatures drop too much, seed cover crops such as clover, peas or vetch to enrich the soil. It will serve as a natural fertilizer, stifle weed growth and help loosen up the soil for next year's crops.

As for your houseplants that you've put outside for the summer, if September was mild enough that your geraniums and other such plants are still outdoors, be sure to make them cozy inside before the first frost takes a bite out of them. Take geranium cuttings of two to four inches to root indoors. If you treat houseplants chemically, be sure to keep them warm and away from direct sunlight. Fertilize houseplants now and they won't need it again until March. And remember to get your poinsettias and your Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti ready for well-timed holiday color. Give them a daily dose of ten hours of bright daylight or four hours of direct sun and fourteen hours of night darkness. Cacti need a cool environment of fifty to sixty degrees, while poinsettias prefer a warmer sixty-five to seventy degrees. Be sure and let your cacti dry out between waterings.

For a true gardenaholic, winter is often considered to be the enemy. But with a few steps toward preparation in the early- to mid-fall, you can take care of your lawn, garden and houseplants in a way that will keep them thriving and surviving until the dawning of yet another most welcome and bountiful springtime.

The information in these two articles was gleaned from the MSN House and Home website and the Better Homes and Gardens website.
About the Author

Executive Director and President of Rainbow Writing, Inc., Karen Cole-Peralta writes. RWI at http://www.rainbowriting.com/ is a world renowned freelance writing, copyediting, ghostwriting, graphics and CAD, search engine optimization, publishing helpers, internet marketing, free professional services, and supercheap dedicated web host and website development corporation.



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