Fall brings gardening chores

Early September is when the color yellow should remind gardeners about fall garden chores.

  • Monday, September 7, 2009 1:05pm
  • Life

By Marianne Binetti

At 8 a.m. Wednesday, enjoy a free pancake breakfast with Marianne Binetti who will talk about fall planting and container gardening at Windmill Gardens in Sumner. Phone 253-863-5843 or visit www.windmillgardens.com

Early September is when the color yellow should remind gardeners about fall garden chores. Yellow school buses mean you can start planting yellow daffodil bulbs. Yellow traffic lights are your signal to use caution and go slowly as you start to renovate a summer-weary lawn. Lawns must be well watered for fertilizers to work. Yellow fall foliage just starting to appear on trees means fall magic is on its way and a whole new gardening season is about to begin. Winter pansies, frost-tolerant herbs, mums, late-blooming perennials and even colorful autumn trees and shrubs can be added to the garden and patio pots now. Fall is for planting and as the nights begin to cool it signals to your new plants that they should grow roots instead of top growth. This is why the back-to-school season is such a good month to add, subtract, divide and multiply plants for the landscape.

Q. I was pulling weeds from my garden bed and a bunch of small dry bulbs have come up. I think they are crocus bulbs. When this happens I never know if I should replant the bulbs or remove them and plant them later on in the fall. Also, I have been known to dig into the ground and slice a big fat tulip or daffodil bulb with my shovel. Does this kill the bulb? W.W., e-mail

A. Bulbs are forgiving little packages of flower power and no matter what time of year you happen to unearth your bulbs they will go right back to sleep once they are replanted. Even bulbs that you accidentally slice or cut may survive so don’t throw in the trowel when you dig into a bulb. The enemy of most spring-blooming bulbs is poor drainage. Choose a location for your bulbs that drains freely and try not to soak the soil with water even during the heat of the summer. Fall is the time to plant tulips, daffodils and crocus but also the time to move or transplant bulbs from one location to another in your landscape.

Q. I planted gladiola bulbs this past spring and they all came up and bloomed. The flowers were amazing and bloomed in a rainbow of colors. Now the blooms are all faded and the long narrow leaves are starting to turn yellow. What do I do now if I want these gladiola bulbs to flower again next summer? P.O., Sumner

A. Glad you asked. Gladiolas in our climate like to be dug up once they have finished blooming but before the heavy, fall rains arrive. September is a good month to dig and store your tender gladiola bulbs. Always cut off the flowering stem once the flowers fade so the plant won’t waste energy on seed production. Leave the foliage alone on all bulbs until the leaves turn yellow. Then, dig up the entire plant and cut off the foliage. The bulb (actually a corm) you find at the end of the stem needs to dry out for a few weeks so store it in a cool garage or dry shed. Once dry you can store all your gladiola corms in a paper bag with a bit of dry peat moss. Keep them over the winter in a cool but not freezing location. Replant your gladiolas next spring in April or early May. If you’re a lazy gardener you can ignore all this work and your gladiolas may return and bloom next summer anyway. It all depends on how well your soil drains in the winter. Growing glads in a raised bed or rockery helps them survive our wet winters without digging, as does covering the area with sword fern fronds or a bit of plastic to keep out the rain. Even if you decide not to dig your glad bulbs you should still cut off the foliage right at ground level in October. Then wait until next summer to see if your gladiola gamble pays off .

Q. Love my dahlias, hate the earwigs. How does an organic gardener keep earwigs out of the dahlias? Anonymous, e-mail

A. You are holding the answer in your hands – if you’re reading your local newspaper. Spray a few pages of the newspaper with a bit of water and roll up these pages. All garden pests seem to prefer the gardening section. Now set this damp trap near the base of your dahlias and in a few days you’ll find earwigs, sow bugs and slugs that love to turn yesterday’s news into condos for culprits. A much cuter earwig trap can be made from a small clay flower pot turned upside down with one end slightly propped up on a rock. The idea is to lure earwigs away from the dahlias with damp and cool accommodations. Baiting the newspaper with a chunk of rotting potato or bit of bacon grease really makes them forget about the dahlias. Once you’ve got them trapped you can kindly add the earwigs to the compost pile where they will do their duty, feeding on rotting organic matter, or you can seek revenge by pouring the contents of the newspaper condos onto the patio and doing the stomp dance.

• • •

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.

For more gardening information, she can be reached at her Web site, www.binettigarden.com.

Copyright for this column owned by Marianne Binetti.

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