Missouri Organic

This Week's Timely Tips from the Savvygardener

October 19, 2011

In This Issue
Thwarting Insect Invaders
Press The Squash
Early Mulchers Beware
Harvesting Sweet Potatoes
Leveling The Lawn
Too Late To Seed?
Best Time To Fertilize

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This Week's Phots



The landscape is as pretty as it gets. The leaves on the trees are at their peak. Most of them have changed color and are beginning their descent to the ground. Crunch, crunch, crunch and perhaps a swoosh (the noise made by kicking leaves) is the sound beneath my feet while walking in the street and on sidewalks. Walking through leaves reminds me of being a kid. I would play outside with my sisters, running around the neighborhood, jumping in and out of leaf piles. My dad, somewhat terse at times, would remind us that we were outside to help rake not spread the leaves. We wouldn't pay any attention until he made it clear that it was time to get to work. That is when leaf raking was fun. Not so much any more. I become overwhelmed with the amount of leaves falling and lying around. It is a daunting task and one that is very hard to stay on top of. Between now and the first week of December we will be out every weekend mowing over and raking leaves to keep them off the lawn. We will mulch them and use them in beds. We will put some in the compost bin and the others (there is always plenty) will probably be sucked up at curbside by a local landscape company. A service that I really appreciate.  


So, did you lose anything to last night's frost? We lucked out, no frost here. I'm afraid we are not going to be as lucky tonight. It looks as if we will get our first official freeze with temperatures dipping into the low 30's. The time has come to say goodbye to my annuals. They are leggy, thirsty and so tired looking. Considering that they were planted in May, I feel as if I got my money's worth. It sure was cold this morning, a brisk 35. I wore a coat, hat and gloves this morning while walking our very slow-moving beagle, Sam Parker. I know, I probably overdid it but at least I was warm. Kevin will tell you there are two things in life that make me cranky. One is being cold and the other is being hungry. If I can stay warm and keep something in my stomach I'm typically pretty happy. I guess I'd better get used to colder mornings. It looks like we are going to experience a few frosty mornings and then the temps will climb back up a bit into the low 40's. Cover anything you want to save and if you haven't already done so bring in those tropicals. It is getting too cold for them to be out. We still need rain. I feel like a broken record. Hopefully we will get some soon and it won't be in the form of the s-word!

~ Shelly

Thwarting Insect Invaders...

When cool night temperatures signal that it's time to bring houseplants indoors a host of insects and their relatives may try to come indoors with them. Once inside they can undergo a population explosion and spread from the plant they came in on to others in your home. Other pests such as millipedes, centipedes, sowbugs and pillbugs, spiders, and earwigs may not harm plants or other materials, but their presence indoors makes them household nuisances.


Repotting your plants in fresh soil will eliminate many of these invaders. The others can be controlled mechanically - by broom and dustpan, vacuum cleaner, flyswatter or sole of shoe applied firmly to floor with the pest sandwiched between the flat surfaces. The best approach is to inspect plant pots closely before bringing them inside. Shake or tap pots vigorously to disturb beetles, millipedes, spiders and other creatures and encourage them to leave their hiding places. If you find scale insects, mealybugs, aphids or other plant-destructive pests, use a hard stream of water or insecticidal soap to remove them. Quarantine these plants from other uninfested indoor plants and observe them closely. Treat any new outbreaks as they occur and discard any plants that are severely infested.


Press The Squash...

When you harvest your winter squash (Acorn or Butternut) check for maturity with your thumbnail. When pressed with your nail the rind of a ripe squash will not be punctured.  To harvest the squash, cut the stem, don't break it off. The cut stems will dry and seal the squash so it will last for months in storage.  It is no exaggeration to say the squash you harvest in October and store in a dry place at around 50 to 55 F. can still be good to eat in April of next year.


Early Mulchers Beware...


Did you know that mulches applied too early can do more harm than good? Think about it. The primary function of mulch is to keep soil temperatures constant and prevent frost heaving, not to keep it warm. It is best not to apply protective mulch until the soil temperature has reached about 35- hopefully at least a month from now!

Harvesting Sweet Potatoes...


forkSweet potatoes need to be harvested before the roots are exposed to periods of cold weather, so usually harvest begins about the time of the first fall freeze. Freshly dug sweet potato roots are fairly tender, so the skin can be easily damaged. A process called curing solves this. Curing involves putting the roots in a warm, humid location for 5 to 10 days immediately after digging. A location about 85 to 90F works best. A small area heated by a space heater and misting the area several times a day is ideal.


The curing process heals over scratches in the skin but also prompts another important reaction - converting starches in the roots to sugar. This improves the texture and flavor of the roots resulting in the moist, sweet flesh we associate with quality sweet potatoes. Always store sweet potatoes in locations where temperatures will be above 55F. Cold temperature storage causes injury that can be irreversible, shortening storage life, turning the inside of the roots dark, giving them a strange alcoholic flavor, and causing premature rotting.


Leveling The Lawn...

good idea

Uneven lawns can really wreak havoc when you're mowing. These "pot holes" make level mowing nearly impossible and even walking through the yard less than ideal. You can fix small low spots in the lawn by carefully removing the turf and filling in the low spot with good topsoil.


Remove the turf by cutting 2 inches deep into the lawn with a flat-bladed spade, then angle the blade under the sod to cut it free, keeping at least 2 inches deep to get most of the roots. If you do it really well you will remove a single piece of sod. After filling the low spot, replace the sod, and keep it well watered until it is reestablished.

Too Late To Seed?


questionBy far the most common question we are getting right now goes like this, "Is it too late to plant grass seed?".  The short answer, Yes, it's too late.


Here's the long answer. Grass seed put down now will have a hard time getting the soil warmth necessary for proper germination. Even if it does germinate it's very unlikely that the roots can get established before the really cold weather arrives. Hopeless? It's never hopeless. An unusually warm November coupled with some very good luck could mean that seed put down now could make it. It is a long shot however.

Best Time To Fertilize...


Nitrogen stimulates increased photosynthesis and the extra energy derived from this goes directly into growth, respiration to maintain the plant (similar to humans), or into storage. In early November, the temperature is still adequate for photosynthesis, but cool enough to minimize respiration demands and too cold for significant growth. Therefore, most of the extra energy derived from a November application of nitrogen is stored by the plant. Next spring, these storage products are used in green-up of the plant and more importantly, for root growth. It is important for the plant to take up the nitrogen quickly in the fall and store the energy for maximum root growth next spring with a minimum of shoot growth. Though one might think that nitrogen applied early next spring would do the equivalent as November-applied nitrogen, just the opposite occurs and shoot growth is stimulated dramatically with early spring-applied nitrogen. A spring application of nitrogen will never compensate for a missed application in November.



"Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns."  

~  George Eliott

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