OUTDOORS Gardens don’t judge — if it didn’t work, try again next year
We had our first taste of fall weather last week, interspaced with a few midsummer-like days.
I fired up the woodstove for two days and nights since the temperature got down to the low 40s one night and a cold rain made it feel even colder. It was in the 90s just a few days earlier, as I shopped (unsuccessfully) for an air conditioner locally as well as in Albany. There were none to be had, of course, in any of the big box stores or at the Albany malls, so I ended up ordering one online. I would much prefer to shop at local businesses, but the local stores are already stocking Halloween stuff and the fact that it often hits 90 in September does not seem to be acknowledged by the management of these stores.
As uncomfortable as these weather swings are for us humans, I wonder how our garden plants must be feeling.
One day, they are happily growing new roots, ripening fruits, producing flowers, and the next day, they are starting to senesce or prepare for the upcoming winter. Woody plants, in particular, expend a great deal of effort getting ready for winter and shortening day length triggers many of these processes, but other factors can affect the process as well.
Late season fertilization can delay the dormancy process, so avoid adding any fertilizer to woody plants between now and late November, when they are completely dormant. Pruning also creates wounds that force the plant to deal with them at the expense of preparing for dormancy. You should avoid pruning woody plants now, as well as not fertilizing, except to remove dead wood whenever it is noticed.
As for our vegetable gardens, now is the time to enjoy the fruit of our labors without worrying about weeds, diseases, insects or anything else for that matter. Many gardeners actually become stressed out or feel guilty when the leaves on the tomato plants turn brown and drop off, or the beans quit producing, the squash vines wither, and the weeds overtake the pepper plants.
Personally, I am delighted that my cucumber plants are all dying now. I have made far more pickles that I will possibly use, so good riddance!
The lack of leaves on the tomato plants just make it easier to spot the green ones and the missing winter squash and pumpkin foliage allows all those fruit to appear, as if by magic. Yes, there will be lots and lots of rotten tomatoes, cucumbers and beans but don’t let that fact bother you at all.
Gardening without guilt is the theme for the next few weeks.
You spent much of the spring and early summer getting ready for the harvest, diligently weeding, spraying, picking off bugs, tending and nurturing all those plants and now, like welcoming the kids going back to school, you finally catch a break! It is time to sit back, have a beverage and relax.
There are certainly many chores that I could advise you to perform right now, from trying to keep the weeds under control before they go to seed, starting a compost pile with all the dead plant material, planting a fall cover crop, making even more pickles or canning more beans, but don’t feel guilty about not doing any of this stuff. There is no garden chore that absolutely must be done now, so take a break from worrying about mildew, blight and bugs.
If you did not harvest enough of any particular vegetable this season, just plan on growing more next year! If your lawn is getting to be 4-inches long, that is fine! If the annual weeds in the perennial border tower above your plants, admire their persistence knowing that they will all soon be dead with the first hard frost. You can worry about their offspring next spring. If your trees and shrubs have spots all over the leaves, it is not a problem now, those leaves will soon be gone anyway.
It is time to celebrate the fall and enjoy the beauty of the seasons changing once more.
In the next couple of weeks our forests will be putting on their annual fashion show and despite all the rain we had this summer and the associated leaf diseases, I can guarantee you that it will be very beautiful! It will be almost as beautiful as the person who inspired this week’s column.