In our continued efforts to provide educational outreach, the Baltimore County Master Gardeners (BCMG), volunteers who are part of the University of Maryland Extension, offer this newest installment in our monthly newsletters designed to provide timely, informative articles to assist you in your gardening activities.
Pruning- It's that time of the year. What can I do about the bugs that are ruining my plants? How about using row covers! Prepare for Spring and Summer in the Fall.
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A New and Inspiring Take on Fall Gardening An article by Elizabeth Heubeck, Baltimore County Master Gardener
In the fall, my mood darkens as my garden fades. Unlike springtime, when I’m excited to putz around in my yard—digging, planting, and preparing for what I hope will be a beautiful and bountiful season—my gardening outlook in autumn tends toward the opposite. That’s when I normally go about the task of tidying up my yard, shutting down the planting season, and generally dreading the dull and dormant winter season that lies ahead. But my outlook, and actions, are flawed, say some gardening experts.
Instead, they suggest that gardeners consider fall a prime time to actively work towards making the following spring and summer gardening seasons flourish. Yes, that includes fall planting!
One such expert is Rebecca McMacken, director of horticulture at Brooklyn Bridge Park, who explained her philosophy on fall gardening in a recent New York Times article. After reading it, I found myself feeling inspired about fall gardening for the first time in my decades-long gardening life.
McMacken’s approach to gardening is steeped in ecological horticulture, which perceives growing plants as a way to enhance the surrounding environment for the benefit of all other life. This involves, writes McMacken, “taking cues from the reproductive and migration habits of key bird and insect species.”
At the opposite end of the spectrum of ecological horticulture is ornamental horticulture, which focuses on gardening mainly for its decorative and recreational applications. In this (popular) version of gardening, observes McMacken, gardeners work to assert control of plants in the name of aesthetics. Gardeners who follow the quote-un-quote rules of ornamental horticulture would likely rake flower beds meticulously in the fall for a lawn that appears pristine rather than keeping a light layer of leaves on top of flower beds as a natural fertilizer.
With the principles of ecological horticulture in mind, here are some things you can do in your garden this fall that you may not have considered before.
Why planting and transplanting in the fall makes sense
For several reasons, fall is often the best time for planting (and not just bulbs!) and transplanting, explains McMacken. For starters, it’s generally easier for newly planted plants to establish roots in the fall than in the spring, when weather patterns tend to change suddenly with the extremes of summer-like intense heat and dryness.
Relatively young plants that are well-established by the springtime benefit pollinators, too. Butterflies, for instance, lay eggs in the spring. The bigger and sturdier the plants are at this time, the more likely they are to support the food needs of these pollinators once their eggs hatch, says McMacken.
There are also practical benefits to planting in the fall. Plants, if well-established by springtime, generally will need less watering, thereby allowing gardeners to focus more on other necessary tasks in the yard—like the never-ending job of weeding.
A note on transplanting: While fall allows transplanted plants to establish roots, it’s also a good time to observe whether your perennials have become overgrown and crowded during the summer growing season. Separating and transplanting perennials gives them more space to flourish; it also allows for increased air movement between plants, important in preventing disease problems like mold, etc.
McMacken, based in New York, says that peak planting time there runs from late September through early October with the exception of grasses, which should be planted earlier in September to allow extra time they require for rooting. Given the slightly warmer temperatures here in Baltimore, these timelines could probably get pushed back a few weeks.
To prune or not to prune in fall?
Many gardeners pull out their pruning clippers in the fall. Experts say, for the most part, put them away in autumn. Pruning at this time of year, they say, will actually severely weaken trees and shrubs. Pruning creates what experts refer to as a “wound” on the plant. And such wounds are said to heal faster when created closer to springtime as opposed to the middle of winter.
An exception to the spring pruning “rule”, these experts say, applies to plants with wood that is dead, diseased or damaged. These should always be pruned as soon as possible, regardless of the season. Pruning a dead branch from a tree may prevent it from falling and causing damage to property or people.
The “rules” on perennials and ornamental grasses don’t seem as strict. But gardening pros do suggest that, if you want to clean up the messy appearance of wilting perennials, refrain until after their foliage has died down. But even then, it’s not necessary. Perennials left uncut during the winter can provide protection and seeds for birds in the cold weather.
Inspired yet? Before that first frost, get out to your yard and plant, divide, and leave the pruning until spring.
Row Covers An article by Marie Brannan, Baltimore County Master Gardener
Are you a vegetable gardener? Are you tired of deer, rabbits, and other critters treating your garden like a salad bar? Are you tired of the scout-pick-squish-repeat cycle for pest control? Are you looking for a non-toxic way to protect your precious plants? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might want to consider adding a floating row cover to your gardening toolbox.
Floating row cover (FRC), sometimes referred to as row cover, garden mesh, or garden fabric is a lightweight, porous fabric similar to mosquito netting. It allows sunlight and water in while keeping various intruders at bay. It also raises the temperature and humidity under the cover slightly, providing frost protection when the temperatures dip and giving your seedlings and transplants a jump start once it gets warmer. If that weren’t enough, it’s relatively inexpensive and can be reused.
There are two main types of FRC:
Weight per square yard
Approx. 0.5 ounce
Approx. 1.5 -2.2 ounces
2°F – 6°F
4°F – 10°F
90 – 95%
50 – 70%
Insect and animal barrier
Extend spring & fall growing seasons
The fabric is spread directly over plants and is held in place using bricks, boards, rocks, and/or soil pins (sometimes marketed as fabric staples). Be sure to leave some slack in the fabric to allow the plants to push up. If you plan to keep it on for the duration of the growing season, you might consider creating a frame made from wood, plastic pipe, or other materials you have handy. It doesn’t need to be anything elaborate, as evidenced by the one in my garden. (see photo)
FRC may be left on crops such as cauliflower, broccoli, and cabbage from March through May and then again from mid-September until Thanksgiving. Salad greens can remain under FRC from planting through harvest. (I also learned this year that basil benefits from the protection, much to the chagrin of grasshoppers!)
Taller crops like kale, collards, chard, and pole beans can also benefit from FRC but can be challenging as they grow. In addition, because these crops grow during the hottest part of the growing season, FRC may need to be removed around mid-June to prevent excessive heat build-up.
Flowering crops that rely on pollination to produce fruit such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash, cucumber, melons, and strawberries will benefit from FRC applied as soon as they are planted. However, once they start to flower FRC must be removed.
Low crops may be watered through FRC, but you should lift it to water plants under a frame unless you’re using a soaker hose or drip irrigation system.
If handled properly, FRC can be used for multiple growing seasons. To deter mice from nesting, store it indoors in plastic bags or containers.
While there are many advantages to using FRC, there are a few problems, too:
Weeds grow faster undercover
Small pests such as aphids and mites can become trapped under FRC
Pests that overwinter in the soil, like flea beetles and the Colorado potato beetle, might emerge the following spring under the cover