Archive | September 2016

Pruners

Pruners come in two basic styles: anvil and bypass. With anvil pruners you have only one sharp cutting blade, which closes against a dull bed (the anvil) to sever whatever. Bypass types are more like scissors, with two sharp blades, one of which secures the branch while the other moves past it, cutting as it goes.

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Anvil Pruners

Anvil pruners cannot be brought as close to the cut as bypass types, but they do have two advantages: only one sharp blade means only one blade to sharpen, and the mechanism does give a bit more leverage. Though this can make a difference if you want to use a small pruner for very thick or very hard wood, it’s usually easier to use a bigger pruner for heavier jobs and stick with bypass for everyday use.

Bypass pruners come with all kids of blade lengths and angles, with and without ergonomic handles, and in special versions for lefties. They also come in a wide price range, with the best-made costing two or three times as much as the cheapos. Fortunately, even the most expensive pruners cost less than dinner and a movie for two, so there is no reason to stint. Just remember the old saying: good tools make all tasks go lightly.

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Bypass pruners

In fact, it’s best to have at least two pruners, one saved for rough work (at ground level, for example, where you might hit gravel) and one used for delicate operations like removing spent lilac blossoms.

This will let you go a bit longer between sharpening sessions. But those sessions are as important as the pruners themselves because it is absolutely essential to make clean cuts when you are pruning shrubs. Wood that has been torn or crushed, as is guaranteed to happen if the pruners are not sharp, is (literally) an open invitation to disease.

Just as it’s better to plant a five-dollar tree in a ten-dollar hole than the other way around, it’s better to have a pair of sharp cheap pruners than to work with quality tools that have been allowed to get dull. If you don’t want to sharpen them yourself, be sure to have them sharpened regularly by a professional — your local nursery or garden center can usually recommend someone. Keep your tools clean and oiled between uses so they don’t rust, and they should serve you well for years.

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Keep your Dahlias

dahlia-173799_960_720Dahlias will not winter over in places where the ground freezes, but they are easy to store if you have a cool place to keep them. Start by making labels while the plants are still blooming, so you remember which color is which. Wait until frost kills the top growth, then as soon as there is a dry day, cut off the dead foliage leaving stubs 2 inches long. Use a digging fork to lift the tubers; turn the clumps upside down.

Let the tubers dry a few hours, then gently remove as much soil as possible. Don’t wash them off, as the last thin layer of clinging soil will help protect them from shriveling. Line a large box with a plastic bag; then add a 4-inch layer of coconut fiber, dry shredded leaves, styrofoam packing peanuts, or sawdust. Place tubers stem side up on this bed, keeping them well separated. Nestle the labels into the clumps.

Completely surround the tubers with additional packing material, and loosely close the bag. Store in a dark place, ideally at 35º to 45ºF. When storage temperatures climb to the mid 50s, the tubers will start sprouting. Ignore short sprouts; they’ll be buried when you plant. Clumps that come from storage with long, pale stems, however, should be hardened off before being set out into the garden.

Dahlia tubers

Dahlia tubers

In the spring, as long as there are a couple of healthy-looking eyes (the buds from which the plants grow, located up near the old stem), even rather shriveled tubers will make decent-size plants. If shoots have started to grow, evaluate them before planting. If they are still small (less that 2 inches long), just bury the tubers as you would normally, a couple of inches below the soil.

If the shoots are long and pale, they will be too far along to bury completely; they’ll also be brittle and vulnerable to sunscald, so handle carefully. Toughen up the shoots by putting the tubers with their new growth in the shade for a week or so before planting. Plant the tubers at the normal depth, with the long shoots above ground, and continue to protect the shoots with a light sprinkling of straw for the next week or 10 days. The idea is simply to shade the bleached growth until it turns green, so don’t smother it with a heavy layer of mulch.

Plant Spinach Now

There’s a certain sadness about autumn cleanup and shutting down the garden. But one of the things to lighten a gardener’s heart is to seed some cold-tolerant varieties of spinach in the fall and let the young plants overwinter. By giving them a head start, you ensure that you will be eating fresh spinach salad next spring while your friends are still waiting for their seeds to germinate.

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Delicious spinach waiting for harvest

‘Fall Green’, ‘Vienna’, and ‘Winter Bloomsdale’ are varieties recommended for overwintering. Planting them up to the second week of October gives them a chance to develop a few leaves and roots before winter. They don’t need to be mulched; the leaves will get ratty through the winter, but the root system will be fine. When spring arrives, new leaves will sprout from the established root system.

If you have saved seeds, make sure they’re a variety that is designed for overwintering. If not, you can hold onto them until next spring. Theoretically, spinach seeds remain viable for three years if stored cool and dry, but germination rates often start falling by the second year.

Prune that Raspberry patch

How-to-grow-raspberries-young-fruitUnderstanding how raspberries produce is the key to getting the most from them. While their roots are perennial, their canes are biennial, dying after the second growing year. In order to prune successfully, you have to know which canes bear when, and that is a function of whether are summer bearers or fall bearers.

Summer-bearing raspberries act like true biennials; the first year is for producing leaves, and the second year is for flower and fruit production. After that, the dead canes just stand around interfering with berry picking. Every year, raspberries send up new canes, so the penalty for not pruning — rampant sprawl and painful harvests — mounts.

The elegant way to prune summer-bearing raspberries is to cut all canes at soil level in the summer, after they are finished fruiting, and then prune out all but the strongest four or five new canes in the spring, once they are 8 to 10 inches high.

Fall-bearing raspberries, also (somewhat misleadingly) called ever-bearing, produce fruit twice; at the tops of the canes in late summer or early fall of the first year, and again lower down on the canes during midsummer of the second (and final) year.

Prune fall-bearers in the spring. For maximum yields, completely remove the canes that produced fruit during the previous midsummer (look for old, cracking bark on the two-year old canes). Leave enough of the brand-new canes to produce a late, first-summer crop, while removing as many as necessary to control the size of the plant.

Alternatively, you can simply cut fall-bearing raspberries to the ground each spring. You’ll get only the late crop of berries, but you won’t have to decide which canes are two years old and which ones are only one; you simply whack them all back.

Keep your Caladiums

Starr_071024-9740_Caladium_bicolorAre your caladiums so beautiful this year that you can’t face the thought of getting rid of them when the summer is over? Why not try to keep them until next summer?! They can be left in the garden into fall so that the leaves can continue working and the tuber can continue to grow larger. However, once frost is in the forecast, don’t wait — just dig, taking up the whole plants or only the tubers.

To winter over a caladium, put the tuber into storage immediately or pot up the whole plant and place it in a brightly lighted windowsill. By late January, the caladium is going to look tired and will need to rest before the tuber is repotted in the spring or planted in the garden after the soil has warmed up. Chop off the foliage, knock off the soil, and let the tuber dry at room temperature. Any condensation will encourage bacterial rot. Store the tuber in dry vermiculite or in a mesh bag (like an onion bag) in a dry place, ideally at 70º to 75ºF but never below 50º, making sure there is good air circulation. Remember: it needs to be stored dry!!

Caladium is an extraordinary foliage plant. Its leaves can be white with narrow green borders or combinations of white, green, and rosy pinks, in pale to outrageous patterns that approach a third grader’s first attempt at stained glass. Most caladiums are hybrids of Caladium bicolor or C. picturatum, native to the tropics of the Americas and the West Indies. Plants can be costly, but tubers are inexpensive so you can just say goodbye at frost time if you like.