By Marianne Binetti
The second week of October provides your last chance to sprinkle grass seed over your bare spots or to thicken up a lawn that struggled this summer. You can also dig and divide up summer-blooming perennials like Shasta daisies and daylilies. Continue to harvest squash and pumpkin from the vegetable garden but don’t worry about digging and storing carrots and beets – they do just fine stored underground and can be harvested all winter as you need them.
Q. When I bring home a new shrub from the nursery I have my husband dig the hole for the new plant. He gets quite upset if I don’t cut into the root ball before I place the plant into “his” hole. He claims the roots will grow into a circle and strangle the plant once it comes out of the pot. Is this true? L.G., Federal Way
A. Smart man you married. Yes, plants growing in pots at a nursery will have compacted root balls in the fall so when you add them to the landscape you need to cut the root ball with a knife or sharp shovel along the outer edge in at least four places. This will force the new roots into growing outward into the soil instead of staying in the shape of the pot. If the roots are not woody or compact enough to require a sharp instrument you can tease them apart with your fingers or pull the bottom of the root ball apart so that it can flap outward like the wings of a butterfly. It may seem harsh and even cruel but if you don’t loosen up the root ball the plant will require much more water, but it won‘t exactly strangle itself. Loosen the soil all around the planting hole as well to encourage those broken roots to explore their new home. It is more important to dig a wide hole than it is a deep hole.
Q. I know I have to rake the leaves that fall onto my lawn but must I pick up every apple that falls in my small orchard? I thought the apples that are rotten can stay in place and act as a fertilizer for the trees. L.G., Tacoma
A. Do you have disease-free apples? If all your fallen apples are free of scab (rough skin) and apple maggot (worm holes in the fruit), then letting the fruit decompose all winter is not a bad idea. But in western Washington the insects and diseases that usually find our apples can overwinter in fallen fruit. If you don’t have deer cleaning up your windfall apples make a clean sweep yourself and you’ll have healthier apple trees next fall.
Q. I am removing the thin and struggling lawn under my huge maple trees this week and want to add a ground cover instead of grass. What would you recommend for deep shade and is it too late to plant a groundcover? T., e-mail
A. It’s not too late to plant groundcovers and you’ll have it made in the shade if you simply cover the old lawn with wet newspaper, add 3 to 4 inches of compost mixed with topsoil and then poke in starts of pachysandra, vinca minor, ajuga or lamium. These four thrive in the shade, stay evergreen and will block out weeds once established. Be sure to mulch the new planting with bark dust after you plant to seal in moisture, keep out the cold and give them a head start over any weeds. One more thing: add a defining border of landscape timbers, rocks or brick edging in a year or so to keep any overly-enthusiastic groundcovers from stealing real estate from the rest of the landscape. You can also just peel up your old lawn, add an inch of compost and plant your new groundcover.
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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.