Do you have an area of your yard that is not doing as well
as you’d like? Or maybe you’re considering creating a new planting area? Have
you tested the soil in your vegetable garden in the past 5 years? Or ever?
A soil test can give you valuable (and sometimes surprising)
information. Proper soil nutrients create healthy plants that are better able
to fend off diseases and pests without any intervention. Knowing the state of
your soil can help prevent the expense of excess fertilization, not to mention
the environmental damage that excess fertilizer can cause.
Now is the perfect time to get that soil test. If the soil test indicates that your soil is too acidic, you can apply the lime in the fall so it has time to alter the soil pH over the winter. If your soil is low in organic matter, you may decide to grow a cover crop over the fall and winter.
fertilizers should be added in the spring before planting.
Soil test kits can be purchased from the Penn State Extension Office in Smeadley Park. Follow the directions for sampling carefully – your test results are only as good as your sample. You will receive a soil report sent directly to your home with all the recommendations for improving your soil. If you have any trouble interpreting your test report, you can always contact the Master Gardener Hort Line for help.
Garlic is planted in the fall – the same as ornamental bulbs
like tulips and daffodils. In Southeastern PA, garlic is generally planted in mid-October.
The timing is based on giving the bulbs time to create a good root system
before cold sets in, but not so much warmth that they sprout before winter.
There are many varieties of garlic which fit into two main
types, hardneck and softneck. Hardneck varieties are generally more hardy and
easier to grow in our climate, but it never hurts to experiment. Garlic bulbs for planting can be purchased
from many places where you would purchase fall bulbs.
Garlic bulbs should be broken into individual cloves and planted about 2 inches deep, 6 inches apart in an area with fertile, well-draining soil in full sun. Like other bulbs, your garlic will sprout in spring and grow through the beginning of summer. To get the largest bulbs, keep your garlic well fed, watered in times of drought and weed free. The flower stalks (or scapes) of hardneck garlic should be removed to maximize bulb size. They are edible!
Garlic is harvested when the leaves start turning brown. You
want at least 4 of the leaves still have some green, otherwise the bulbs will split
open, start to lose their papery wrappers and will not store well. Garlic is
usually ready for harvest in our area by mid-July.
Harvest the bulbs carefully as they bruise easily when
fresh. Allow them to dry for two to 3 weeks in a well-ventilated, shaded area. Then
brush off any soil, cut off the dried tops and roots and store in a cool, dark
You can save some of your garlic bulbs to plant again next
year. Save the largest bulbs to get the biggest crop.
With the plethora of new gardening gadgets, there is one that pretty much everyone has in their pocket or purse; your phone…or more specific the camera on your phone.
Since we are winding the garden season, now is a good time to document both your garden and also your purchases for the 2019 season.
When purchasing plants throughout the season, I group the plant tags together and snap a picture just in case they are lost. If you are extremely diligent, this can be done for specific planters, especially if the combos are ones you like and want to replicate next year.
I also document plants that I might want to buy in the future but may not remember the name or cultivar. You can also research a plant easily while still in the store using any search engine. This may or may not save you money! Flowerchecker is an app for handy identification as well as NatureGate which will ID plants, birds, fish, and butterflies.
Everyone’s garden goes through many changes both good and
bad so take a few pictures of areas that you are really pleased with, plant
combos that worked out, plants you think you should buy more of or need to
repeat again for a continuous look, areas that could use some spring, summer,
or fall bulbs, or maybe even some garden art to spice things up.
Areas of your garden that are looking peaky (rundown),
overgrown or in need of something different, having a picture with you can help
you make wise decisions when shopping those fall ½ sales! Just looking at a picture sometimes will give
you a fresh perspective on what that area needs.
Once the garden season is over and winter sets in, download
and establish files for plants and sections of your garden for future
reference. Winter is a good time to
start your lists for next season’s garden, which can easily be done with your
phone’s apps. When the 2020 garden
catalogs start arriving, I sometimes snap a picture of a new variety to be on
the lookout for.
Your phone can help you in the garden in many ways but try
not to lose it in the garden. It will be
of no use then.
Did you ever meet anyone, who owned their own still? Then…..you discover that the owner of this
apparatus is an 86yr. old woman, attired in period clothing, who has a PhD. in
history from Bryn Mawr College.” Oh, my….this is going to be interesting.”
This was my experience when I met the speaker at the Master
Gardener’s “Second Saturdays” event, which was held on Aug. 10. Her name is Clarissa F. Dillon, whose
scholarly knowledge covers two continents….North America and Europe. She talks about 17th and 18th century
housewifery. Standing behind her still, which she calls her penguin as it does
indeed look like a copper bird, Clarissa began her lecture talking about “Dr.
Mom”. Colonial women besides being wives and mothers were also doctors, nurses and
The lecture was illustrated by a table filled with colonial
artifacts….tool, syrups, compresses and herbs, referring to different objects
Clarissa lead us through a mesmerizing and fascinating lecture.
Our colonial ancestors evolved from the belief that an evil
life style caused disease, (the devil
made me do it…..blood letting anyone?) to a more enlightened and scientific
approach of cause and effect.
What I found particularly fascinating was that Clarissa goes
back and studies first hand, original documents. She told us that it was customary for
colonial women to notate their experiments and their results and very often the
“successful cures” would be passed down from generation to generation and often
from friend to friend. She has
researched hundreds of these documents from ordinary citizens. In addition, she jokingly told us her PhD and
scholarly acclaim have also given her access to some colonial celebrity healers
such as Ben Franklin’s first wife….whose
name was Guilelma Springett.
Even more fascinating is the fact that she then goes back
like the scholar that she is and duplicates all the receipts (recipes) which
she researches. She shared many
interesting things including the fact that there are three different plants
which, when applied to a bleeding human body, will stop the blood flow.
And just for the record, Clarissa has a permit for her
still, which holds less than a gallon of
liquid…..and uses it for scientific and historic purposes only…..and she never served
us any “refreshments” although Second Saturdays are always accompanied by tasty
treats ! Hope you will join us for some
Lecture A –Picking Prolifically Pleasing Perennials
Ray Murphy, Master Gardener & Nemours Estate Gardener
So many perennials, so many choices! Let’s take a look at
both popular and lesser known perennials for your garden. We’ll discuss their
care, and some of the different conditions to consider that will make your yard
look beautiful! Fee: $20
Workshop A – Corn Husk/Sunflower Wreath
Beth Folkomer, Master Gardener
Join Beth and create your own Harvest Rustic Wreath to adorn
your front door or gate. You have two choices to select (with your own creative
touches, of course) a plain corn husk wreath or a sunflower corn husk wreath
with pinecone seed pod. All supplies included. Limited to 15. Fee: $20
Workshop AA – Fern Propagation
Mary Tipping, Curator & Plant Recorder, Scott Arboretum at Swarthmore College
Discover with other fernophiles how to cultivate fern
species from spores – which is much easier than you think. Spores of two
different fern species, related cultivation items, and an overview of fern
reproduction will be provided in this class. Limited to 15. Fee $20
Session 2: 10:45 am – 12:00 noon
Workshop B – Natural Impressions in Air Dry Clay
Gerri Eunson, Alyce Zellers & Catherine St. Clair, Master Gardeners
Learn how to use air dried clay to capture nature. We will
be creating a necklace with a pendant and a holiday ornament. You will leave
with completed projects plus additional items to dry and finish at home. All
supplies included. Limited to 15. Fee: $20.
Workshop BB – Tool Maintenance
Liana Baurele, Master Gardener
Looking for a simple sharpening method to bring your garden
tools back to good form? Look no further. Armed with a complimentary sharping
stone and illustrated directions, Liana can show you how to put a sharp edge on
your dull garden tools. Bring 2 tools of your choice to work on. Limited to 15.
Session 3: 1:00 pm – 2:30 pm
Lecture C- Compost Forum
Sam Barnett, Chris Coulter, Teia Harding, Chantel Wildman, Master Gardeners
Learn from our panel of master gardeners all of the correct
steps required to produce your own ‘Black Gold’ from garden and kitchen scraps
along with the different techniques to achieve this rich organic product. Fee:
Workshop C – Succulent Pumpkin Centerpiece
Gerri Eunson, Alyce Zellers & Catherine St. Clair, Master Gardeners
Create a stylish, fall themed decoration to celebrate the season. In this hands-on workshop, we will combine live succulents, moss, seed pods and dried flowers with pumpkins to create a festive centerpiece that will last through Thanksgiving. All supplies are included. Limited to 15. Fee: $20. This session is filled.
Workshop CC – Autumn Craft Workshop for Children & Adults
Teresa Albers, Master Gardener
This workshop consists of two activities geared to children (8 years +) and adults. Leaf rubbing is both fun and educational as children and adults learn together about leaf structure and identification while creating a leaf rubbing collage. Decorating mini pumpkins offers children and adults shared sensorial exploration and creative expression. Come and join Teresa in these Fall activities of joyful, creative self- expression. All supplies included. Limited to 5 adults & 10 children. Fee: $5 per child
You can also register for a boxed lunch, available at the event. Classes fill quickly to sign up soon.
Those end of season plant sales can be very exciting. The
prices are so great, you can finally fill all those “holes” in your landscape. But how can you tell if a great price is also
a great value? Here are a few things to consider.
Make sure the plant in question matches the planting conditions you have, is hardy in your zone and will fit into your landscape. Its not a bargain no matter the price if you can’t grow it well in your yard.
While you can expect some leaf and branch damage by the end of the season, wilting or burned plants, or rotting ones, that have obviously not been cared for are risky. Extremely stressed plants may not survive in spite of your best TLC.
Don’t be surprised if perennials have been cut back. The stems may be shorter but they should still be intact. A gentle tug may tell you if stems are rotting. The exception to this are spring ephemeral perennials that are going dormant. These may have naturally lost many of their stems making it a bit more difficult to access the health of the plant. Nursery staff should be able to tell you if a plant is a spring ephemeral.
Check carefully for any pests or diseases you do not want to introduce into your garden. In some cases this can include noxious weeds (Hairy Bittercress – I’m looking at you!).
Don’t be afraid to carefully slip the plant from its pot and
check the root system. There should be evidence of live roots. At the end of
the season, you can expect some root wrapping around the pot edges, but if a
plant is extremely root
bound and feels hard as a brick, consider carefully. You will need to cut
and tease those roots out in order
to plant properly. This is difficult with extremely root bound plants.
Be aware that clearance plants may not have the same warrantee
as full price plants, best to check with the nursery.
Try to plant your finds as soon as possible so they can begin establishing themselves. Mulch them, but do not fertilize. You may be able to divide some perennials that have been growing in a pot all season when you plant.
Be sure to keep the plants watered throughout the fall. Squirrels are notorious for digging up transplants in the fall so keep an eye out. Sometimes fall planted specimens are more susceptible to frost heave so be prepared to tuck them back in during winter thaws if need be.
Want more information? Check out this Penn State article.
Rudbeckia laciniata is commonly known as cut leaf coneflower or green headed coneflower. It is a stately native perennial that can reach 9 feet tall under the right conditions but generally grows 5-7 feet tall. Its preferred location is full to part sun in moist soil. It naturally occurs in moist woodland clearings or along stream beds. It is adaptable to average garden soil, but may wilt during periods of drought without supplemental water.
Like many plants, there are both pros and cons to adding Rudbeckia
laciniata to your garden.
On the positive side, this rudbeckia provides plenty of
sunny flowers and has a long 2 month bloom time – July through September. The size and bright coloration of this plant creates
a strong accent in the garden at a time when some other perennials are starting
The flowers are attractive to bees (both native and domesticated) and butterflies, providing a late season nectar source. They have attractive seed heads and the flower seeds provide food for finches in the fall. This coneflower is generally pest and disease resistant and can handle hot, humid summer weather. It is considered deer and rabbit resistant.
Because of its tolerance for moist soil and periodic
flooding, it is a good plant for flood prone areas or rain gardens. Given
space, it can create a (very tall!) groundcover. The root structure provides
good erosion control.
However (here come the cons), in moist sunny areas this
coneflower can spread somewhat aggressively by underground rhizomes. Plants
should be edged or divided in spring to control the spread.
In fertile soils, more shade or windy areas the plants will
probably need staking to keep it upright.
While the plants will probably survive drought, the lower
leaves will droop and brown. Drought stress can occasionally result in powdery
If you can give this plant a bit of moisture and some room
to grow, it might be a great addition to a pollinator friendly landscape.