It’s been a long hot summer and with work, vacations and trying to still fix-up the old house to put it on the market to sell and thus I missed the July article. There is always next year. With a wink of the eye, August will be gone so I am making an effort to put forth some last words on summer gardening.
Most of the flowering perennials will be finished with their blooms, but a few will have a second bloom cycle. Cut back all the old growth and lightly fertilize and you may be rewarded with a few new blossoms. This is especially true for roses. Cut stems back aggressively back to a five-leafed section for tea roses. Shrub roses can be cut back as well, but the exact cut point is not so important. Fertilize with a low nitrogen and high phosphate fertilizer. Don’t worry about fungicides or pests now. Give them some extra water. Do now only; don’t do it in September. When the weather starts to cool, you don’t want to encourage new growth. The last few years we have had late frosts, and really long Indian Summers so in my opinion it’s OK to still expect this pattern to continue. Cut the spent stems off of your daylilies to clean them up.
Continue to cut your lawn high; about 4″. Watch the weather and the shortening days so you can determine when to reduce the watering time by a bit or more beginning in September. Lawn growth will slow down with shorter daylight hours as well as cooler weather.
Make compost……use those grass clippings and vegetable and fruit remnants to make compost while the weather is still warm. Made properly, it will be ready to top dress your beds with in the Fall. Compost can be made- in a pile, in special compost boxes and bins, in an old plastic trash can with holes drilled in the sides, in a fancy tumble composter- any place that you can deposit an approximately 3 cubic foot ( 3′ x 3′ x 3′) pile of material that is out of the way of pets, but close enough that you will tend to it. If you have a small yard, using a bin is best. Materials should contain approximately 2/3rds brown- high carbon materials to 1/3rd green- high nitrogen materials. Common brown materials are dried leaves, straw, newspaper, other shredded paper, paper egg cartons, sawdust, egg shells, pine needles and wood ashes. Common green materials are kitchen scraps (only plant based), grass clippings (only ones untreated with herbicides, like weed and feed), animal manures, such as chicken, horse, sheep, goat and cow (herbivores) and non-diseased plant clippings and trimmings, weeds without seed heads and don’t forget the coffee grounds (I think they fall into the green category, but regardless- throw them in). It is important for all these materials to be cut-up or torn-up in small pieces for quick composting. Layer your green and brown materials (about every 2″ each) or mix them. The nitrogen in the green material will break down the carbon in the brown material. It is very important to allow airspace in the pile, as oxygen is needed to decompose the pile properly and keep it from smelling. Anaerobic (without oxygen) decomposition is what leads to a stinky mess. You might notice that if you pile up grass clippings they will start to decompose, but they will get sticky, slimy and stinky. They mash together and air is blocked- this is an example of anaerobic decomposition. So, when adding the grass clippings to a compost pile sprinkle them on top of the other materials- don’t just dump a full basket load on top. As leaves begin to fall from the trees, it is easy to have brown material at hand, but for now; tear up the newspaper and egg cartons, shred your waste paper and even buy a bale of straw to add to the pile if necessary. The other really important ingredient is water. Keep the pile as wet as “a wrung out sponge”- damp, but not soaking. If it dries out, don’t worry, but try to keep moisture present. Covering the pile loosely with a tarp is OK. Take a pitch fork and turn it every couple of weeks to move the drier material inside the pile. You can also add a shovel full of native soil to your pile to introduce natural bacteria that will help to decompose the pile; you can add a bit of yeast to it or a fancy compost inoculant if you want to spend money. Don’t add lime to your compost pile, unless it is mostly pine needles. We have slightly alkaline soil in Nevada, so adding slightly acidic compost to the soil is a good thing. In areas with acidic soil this might be prudent, but not here. Ultimately, you want the pile to heat up; if you see steam escaping from the inside when you turn it, you know that it got hot. Heat will kill pathogens and weed seeds. A pile will still decompose, without heating up enough to kill these off and be beneficial to your garden, but might also introduce unexpected new and unwanted seedlings in the spring. When Fall comes along and there is an abundance of leaves to put in a compost pile, out-weighing the green materials available, adding a few handfulls of ammonium sulfate, sprinkled about will take care of the nitrogen needs unless you have a lot of fresh animal manure. Composting is fun. It is a way to see how life regenerates itself and it is a great way to feed your garden naturally, especially in Nevada where we don’t have a lot of natural decomposition due to our arid climate.
Be on the look out for sales at garden centers and nurseries from now and through November……… Fall is the absolute best time to plant in Northern Nevada. All the perennials, shrubs and trees that you wished you had in your garden in spring and summer you can have next year at reduced prices. Identify what you want and find them in their “off season” without their pretty blooms and fruits. Buy with abandon, cut back old growth and plant in the right location with soil amendment if needed and without fertilizer. If they are pot bound with roots growing out of the pot or circling cut the pot out around them and tease the roots out. Even cut a few roots if necessary; it won’t hurt. They will be so happy to have a few months to get established before winter and will surprise you with their growth and hardiness next season. The soil will remain warm enough for root development through late November. They will concentrate their energy on root growth, not flowers or fruit. They will be much more established before any plants you might plant in spring. Don’t fertilize them. Don’t forget to water them. Put those drips on now while you still remember what you planted.
As far as vegetables go, you can try planting cool season crops like kale and other leafy greens. I have not had luck with broccoli or peas planted in the Fall or overwintering carrots. Maybe it’s just me, or the very cold nights we will get occasionally in the Fall; we have such temperature extremes. But, the leafy greens and even the micro greens that sprout and grow quickly will yield a good harvest up until and maybe through November. Experiment with them. I will try and find time to write about cold frames in an upcoming article. That is a really good way to grow throughout the year. For now…build your compost pile!
There appears to be a bumper crop of fruit this year!!!!! I have peaches, apples, pears and plums on trees that have not had fruit for years or have never had fruit at all. I still have apricots in my refrigerator from a friends tree and apricots are rare in Northern Nevada. ENJOY the ripe fruit, with the smell and taste that is only present in local, homegrown fruit. It’s not the same as what you normally buy at the supermarket; it is filled with sunshine and flavor and it is all around to savor. If you don’t have your own, ask a friend or neighbor if you can pick some. Pick them up off the sidewalk or in a vacant lot. Don’t be afraid that they don’t look perfect. Knock off a few bugs and cut off the blemishes and PLEASE, PLEASE let your children taste what truly succulent, ripe fruit should and does taste like. Part of the reason our children might not like fruit is because we usually give them picture perfect, cardboard tasting, undeveloped fruit that has been grown miles away and picked when it was not ripe and never had a chance to develop full flavor. Grab a fresh peach off the tree, rinse it under water or shine it on your shirt and rub off the fuzzy coating and bite in. Taste the sunshine and lusciousness. Yum, yum.
Eat it fresh, make pies, make preserves, stew, dry, freeze and abundantly enjoy the harvest this year. You and your family might rediscover the true taste of fruit and besides it’s all around and free. Let this be a time to introduce your children and reintroduce yourself to picking, harvesting, tasting and preserving the “fruit of the earth”. Cooperative Extension is offering workshops on growing and preserving food. Check it out at http://www.growyourownnevada.com .
Didn’t mean to sound peachy- mean -preachy, but that’s my old dietician and master gardner coming out in me.