Several gardeners have written in to describe birds eating the not-quite-mature seeds out of flowerhead in the garden.
Last year we grew one giant sunflower. There were mature seeds still in the heads when I deconstructed the plant in fall, so I cut them off and left them on the stump in the pollinator garden.
This year, several sunflowers sprouted, none planted by us. The goldfinches have eaten the seeds all summer long! I thought they would wait till fall, but no. I hear their cheeps at their mealtimes as they flutter about the flower heads. Thank you for your column, which I have always enjoyed.
— Claudia H Allen
One of the hardest lessons many gardeners have trouble learning is to listen to the garden.
Too often we fall prey to advertisers’ messages selling us the latest, most potent, easiest solutions to chores or problems that we may not have or need. Or maybe we supplement the already fertile soil with amendments because our parents did it yearly. Sometimes the reason is difficult to fathom, but the strength of the belief governs the gardener’s actions.
I witnessed a good example of the latter last weekend. My neighbor, the one with the great tomato garden, sent me a last bag of tomatoes. It makes me sad that he pulled up every tomato plant because that’s what he has done for years on Labor Day weekend. When I first met him, he planted the same thick-skinned determinate variety each spring, We have expanded his horizons to include Beefsteaks, Brandywines, and have sneaked in even a few real surprises such as Cherokee Purple or Isis Candy. He has since designated a patch section for our eclectic choices but still keeps his schedule.
Is this a catastrophe? I suppose not, but it grieves my heart to know that he trashed tomato-laden plants that would have produced wonderful, tasty tomatoes for several more weeks. Many are determinate and do produce a major flush of fruits over a short period, but others were lush, happy indeterminate ones that last and produce until the frost kills them,
I tell this story not to ridicule my neighbor, he is a good, kind man who has helped us out innumerably over the years. However, it illustrates the need to learn and evolve with the garden. It truly makes no difference to his garden if he lets the plants in for a few more weeks. He does it because that’s what he has always done. He yanks out the still producing heirlooms, the sweet cherries, and the other indeterminate tomatoes.
This is an obvious and extreme example, but who among us isn’t guilty of doing something just because of a date on the calendar, a family practice, or a persuasive ad? We water on Tuesdays, our automatic sprinklers soaking the lawn whether it needs. it or not. We lime the lawn because that’s what our parents did. We kill the bugs, good or bad, because the commercials tell us we should.
So, what’s my point? Listen and learn from nature. All bugs aren’t bad and we can do much more damage using some high-powered insecticide to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. The garden will survive, and even thrive with a few snails or slugs — the toads and birds enjoy eating them. More is not always better. If the lawn needed lime once doesn’t mean that it needs it every year — test and let the soil tell you what it needs or doesn’t need.
I am not advocating some wild return to nature philosophy, just the calm examination of the garden to determine if something really needs to be changed, and the best, least damaging solution.
For example, for years I have pulled out every single plume poppy I see in the yard. Not because I hate them; I find them quite attractive. But because I know if I don’t, the yard will be filled with thousands of them next spring. I also know that despite my best efforts, a few will escape my grasp and live on to perpetuate the species providing an annual reminder of the gardening friend who first gave them to me.
The Bethlehem Garden Club will meet on Thursday at Advent Moravian Church, 3730 Jacksonville Rd, Bethlehem to hear Deborah Pomroy discuss the Art of Armature, the equipment or framework you need in making a design, The meeting will start at 1 p.m. The doors will open at 12:30 p.m. All are welcome.
Sue Kittek is a freelance garden columnist, writer, and lecturer. Send questions to Garden Keeper at firstname.lastname@example.org or mail: Garden Keeper, The Morning Call, PO Box 1260, Allentown, PA 18105.
Planting: Plant a quick crop like microgreens or frost-resistant crops like collars, short-season cabbage or mustard greens. Plant pansies for fall color and, if you select winter pansies, early spring blooms. Asters and mums are available, buy now for best selection; use either in the garden or as part of a container display. Sow seeds that require a cold period for germination; poppies are one example. Plant perennials, shrubs and trees as the weather cools. Hold bulbs until October.
Seasonal: Allow the final flush of flowers to go to seed. Many provide food for the birds and small mammals during the fall and winter. Take cuttings of those annuals you want to winter over or other favorite plants that have grown too big to move indoors.
Order asparagus, rhubarb, bulbs, flower and fruit plants, and shrubs for fall planting. Shop nurseries for end-of-season bargains or new fall arrivals. Weed often and cut off flowers of any weeds you don’t get pulled out. Cut back peony greens to about three to four inches tall as the foliage dies. Prune summer-flowering shrubs about two weeks after flowering. Apply corn gluten-based weed control in the garden and establish a schedule for reapplication, usually at four to six-week intervals
Lawn: Seed, overseed, dethatch and aerate lawns from September through mid-October. Apply broadleaf weed control, September through mid-October. Install sod as the weather cools, September and October. Treat for chinch bugs and sod webworms. Purchase fertilizer and, if desired, apply now until mid October. Cut as needed, based on growth not schedule, to a height of about 2 to 3 inches. Use a sharp blade. Keep newly seeded or sodded lawns watered; supplement rain in weeks where less than an inch. Fill in holes and low spots in lawn. Apply corn gluten based weed control in the garden; reapply at four to six-week intervals.
Chores: Stop watering amaryllis bulbs. Allow the bulbs to dry out and go dormant. Store in a cool dry area until they resprout in about 8 to 10 weeks. Start planning for fall. Order bulb and plants for early fall shipment. Check seed inventory for late crops and fall planting. Get plants ready to bring in. Repot those that need it and pot up those you want to winter over indoors. Harvest crops regularly, at least every other day. Dump standing water and remove anything that may collect rainwater to help control mosquito populations. Water any recent plantings and containers anytime we experience a week with less than an inch of rain. Repair damaged screens and caulking around windows and doors in preparation for the indoor invasion of wintering over insects and rodents.
Maintain deer, rabbit and groundhog protection for vulnerable plants. Reapply taste or scent deterrents. Clean and fill bird feeders regularly. Clean up spilled seed and empty hulls. Dump, scrub and refill birdbaths at least once a week.
Clear gutters and direct rainwater runoff away from house foundations.
Tools, equipment, and supplies: Check winter/fall equipment, repair or replace as needed.
Safety: Clear lawns of debris before mowing and make sure pets, children and others are well away from the area being mown.
Store garden chemicals indoors away from pets and children. Discard outdated ones at local chemical collection events. Photograph storm damage before clearing or repairing for insurance claims and file promptly. Anytime you are outside and the temperatures are about 50°F or warmer watch for tick bites. Use an insect repellent containing Deet on the skin. Apply a permethrin product to clothing. Wear light-colored clothing, long sleeves, hats and long pants when working in the garden. Stay hydrated. Drink water or other non-caffeinated, nonalcoholic beverages. Even in cold weather, apply sunscreen, wear hats and limit exposure to sun. Wear closed-toe shoes and gloves; use eye protection; and use ear protection when using any loud power tools.