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John Fulton

John Fulton
Former County Extension Director

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In The Backyard

Horticulture columns and tips done on a timely basis

Fall Items

Posted by John Fulton -

To begin with, you may have noticed a very large number of brown needles on evergreens this fall. That may even have translated to large piles of needles under your evergreens in the past few weeks, especially white pines. Not to worry. Evergreens usually only keep one to four years of needles (one to two years growth for white pines) on the ends of branches. Depending on weather, the old needles will turn brown and drop off. Usually this is a gradual process that isn't noticed too much. This year it happened all at once. If the buds on branch tips are plump and green, odds are your tree is fine.

Several calls have come in concerning the proper time to prune or cut things back. Let's start with some flowers. Keep in mind that perennials keep building their food reserves until all the leaves and stems are brown. For peonies and other similar flowers, you want to wait until all the above ground plant parts are brown. Then you can mow them off, or cut them at ground level. This same principal goes for most perennial flowers – wait until the above ground parts are no longer green. For trees and shrubs, pruning is best done at other times. Flowering shrubs should be done after they flower, high sap flow trees are best done in December, and most other trees are best done in February. The evergreen trees and shrubs are best done in late June.

Crabgrass is nearing the end of its lifecycle. It comes up from a seed about the first of April each year, depending on temperatures. Seed has been viable for several weeks already, and that is what will make next year's crop. The seedling germination inhibitors do the best job on the annual grasses, and they can stop the cycle anytime you apply them. For now, let nature run its course since you really don't have any options anyway.

Lawn diseases have been very prevalent this year. We have had rust, brown spot, and dollar spot for the most part. Healthy grass has already begun to fill in spots, and will continue to do so through the fall. The rule of thumb is existing grass can fill in a spot as large as a dinner plate in one growing season. Extra fertility can help this happen, especially the P and K. To really thicken things up, and mow twice a week minimum until December, you can fertilize additionally the first week of October and the first week of November with fertilizers low in nitrogen. This means starter/winterizers or complete lawn and garden fertilizers.

Make sure you watch your pumpkins and squash as the wet soil conditions seem to be making things rot quicker than normal. Here are some rules for selecting pumpkins:

· Choose a pumpkin with a stem and never carry it by the stem. Pumpkins without a stem will not last long.

· Select a pumpkin with a flat bottom, so it will stand upright

· Avoid pumpkins with holes, cuts or soft spots. These areas will rot.

· Light colored pumpkins are easier to carve because the skin is not as hard as darker orange colored ones, but they will not keep as well.

· Wash the pumpkin with warm water and let it dry before carving. Use of a small amount of dishwashing soap in the warm water may help extend the life of the pumpkin.

· To make the pumpkin last longer, keep it in a cool place until ready to carve. After carving, coat the cuts with petroleum jelly.

· Carving should only be done three days ahead of Halloween. After cutting, the pumpkin will deteriorate rapidly.

· The use of a candle in the pumpkin will also make it deteriorate rapidly.

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