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September 2017
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The problem with cattails

Cattails are difficult to control and may require help from a professional. (C) Andalusia/morguefile.com

Cattails add a lot of visual and architectural interest along the shores of ponds and lakes and in ditches. But sometimes they spread beyond the borders. A few people have written lately asking how to get rid of cattails in the wet areas of their landscapes, including reader J.P., who says they are spreading into the tree line.

Of the three species of cattails (Typha spp.) in North America, two are native, the wide-leaf (T. latifolia) and the southern (T. domingensis). Narrow-leaf cattail (T. angustifolia) is not native, but the National Park Service says it is not considered invasive. An invasive plant is frequently defined as one that is not native and has the potential to cause environmental or economic harm to humans, animals or other plants. No one would dispute that cattails can be aggressive, though.

As part of its Great Lakes Research at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, the park service has been monitoring a hybrid (or cross) of at least two of the three cattails to develop T. x glauca, which is considered invasive.

In the residential landscape, there are few options to control cattails, no matter which ones have rooted.

Cattails have vigorous, tenacious roots, which can be dug, but it’s a lot of work, said Ellen Jacquart, an invasive plant expert who retired recently from The Nature Conservancy in Indiana.

Keeping the cattails chopped back to below the soil or water line will eventually weaken the plants, but it may take several years.

There are chemicals that control cattails, but most are not registered for use by the homeowner. We always want to exercise extreme caution when using lawn and garden chemicals around water. Jacquart recommended homeowners and others refer to Purdue University’s list of invasive plant removal contractors.

Select tight-budded mums

Everyone is ready to plant fall mums in their pots or garden beds. Remember to buy plants where the flower buds have just started to show color. Mums at that stage will last much longer than plants with the flowers open. The same advice goes for potted asters, also available this time of year.

Select chryanthemums that still have tight buds for the longest show of flowers. (C) menstatis/morguefile.com

Other items to consider for a fall theme: annual red fountain grass; million bells (Calibrachoa); petunias; Diascia; Nemesia; dusty miller; snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus); Osteospermum; salvia (S. farinacea); pansies or violas; ornamental cabbage or kale; ornamental peppers; Swiss chard; lettuces, especially bronze-leaf types; corn stalks; squash, gourds and pumpkins. Also, snip a few dried seed heads from the garden for another element.

 

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Seeds reward us and fail us, but we don’t know until we try

This past growing season, I tried growing several vegetables from seeds. Like a lot of gardeners, some things worked great and some not so great. I sowed seeds for carrots, corn and celery. Here’s the outcome.

On Deck sweet corn was bred for growing in a container. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Seeds of On Deck sweet corn, bred for growing in containers, were sown in three Smart Pots, about two weeks apart. The instructions were to sow nine seeds in a 24-inch wide container. Nine of the seeds in the first batch germinated, three of the second, and four of the third. I think by the second and third batches, my dog Sadie discovered the pots and ate what she thought was grass. If there was anything about growing the corn it was that the seedlings look just like grass, reminding us that indeed, corn is a grain, not a vegetable.

So far, I’ve harvested four, 6-inch ears of white corn. The first one was gorgeous. Small, but it was filled out well, which means it was well pollinated. On the other three harvested ears, the kernels were few and far apart. I ate the first one and it was sweet, but the kernels were very small.

The ears also had a pretty good infestation of aphids, being defended by tiny ants. There was no damage from the aphids or the ants, and fortunately, I did not have any insect or disease damage. Even the raccoons haven’t found it.

Although production wasn’t great, I can cut the stalks and use them in fall arrangements. Will I grow On Deck again? Probably not. Certainly not with an expectations of a good crop. I’ll stick with the farmers market for my sweet corn.

An even bigger disappointment was the Peppermint Stick celery. Nothing, nada, not a seedling. I direct sowed this in a Smart Pot. I probably will try the celery again next year, only I’ll start the seeds indoors first, then transplant outdoors.

Short Stuff carrots were grown from seed from Renee’s Garden Seed. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

My greatest success was also the easiest. Short Stuff carrots did just what I wanted. These are not long, thin carrots, but rather short, fat ones, an absolutely perfect size for roasting with other root vegetables for winter dishes. These were so easy. I sprinkled seed thickly on the surface of dampened potting mix in a Smart Pot. As the seeds germinated and mini carrots grew, I thinned them out several times before just letting everything grow.

I plan to toss some straw or chopped leaves atop the pot of carrots to protect them from frost and freezes. Everyone tells me carrots get even sweeter once the temperatures cool. I will definitely grow carrots again.

Sure there were disappointments, but the process was fun and it gave me a chance to try something new. After all, that’s how we learn, right?

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It’s pickin’ time for veggies

 

Snip peppers from the plant rather than pull or twist. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

With all the vegetables in high production mode, it’s good to know some of the best ways to bring the harvest to the table. Here are a few tips on the proper way to pick tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables.

  • Harvest the vegetables. Don’t allow ripe vegetables or fruits to remain on the plants. The more you harvest, the more a plant will produce.
  • Twist the tomato from the vine until the fruit breaks free. You can snip it off, too.
  • Snip off peppers close to the stem. Part of the stem should remain on the pepper. The pepper is firmly attached to the vine and pulling the fruit frequently dislodges the whole plant from the ground.
  • Snip off cucumber, squash, pumpkin and eggplant.
  • Pick beans and peas by hand by pinching stems with your thumb and forefinger.
  • Harvest the large head of broccoli by cutting the stem with a sharp, clean knife. Harvest the smaller shoots as they develop along the sides of the plant. Broccoli can take a chill or two, which sweetens its flavor.
  • Cut or pull the center head of a cabbage. Or remove the whole plant and chop out the head with a sharp knife.
  • Break off Brussels sprouts, starting with the largest ones. You don’t have to harvest the sprouts all at once. You can also harvest the whole stem at once if you want to preserve them by freezing or other methods.
  • Pull in a downward motion to twist off ears of corn when the tassels turn brown. You can also test ripeness by pulling back the husk and pressing a kernel with your thumb. If the fluid is milky, it’s time to harvest.

Replanting veggies

Now is a good time to sow seeds for lettuces, spinach, chard, arugula and other greens. These can be harvested as soon as they come up for micro greens. When allowed to grow, they can be harvested whenever their size is just right for a freshly picked salad.

You can protect you late-season crops with a  covering of about 1 foot of straw to keep frosts and freezes from damaging them. Usually a covering of straw keeps them safe from frosts and freezes for several weeks into late fall and early winter.

 

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September Garden Checklist

At the end of the season harvest tomatoes and peppers to finish ripening indoors. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

At the end of the season harvest tomatoes and peppers to finish ripening indoors. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Indoors

  • Dig and repot herbs growing outdoors, or take cuttings to pot up and grow indoors.
  • Bring houseplants that spent the summer outdoors back indoors before night temperatures fall below 55 degrees. Gradually decrease light to acclimate plants and help reduce leaf drop. Check for insects and disease before putting them with other plants.
  • Plants, such as tuberous and waxed begonias, impatiens, fuschia and geraniums, may be dug from the ground or containers and repotted for indoor enjoyment during the winter. Cuttings also may be taken, rooted in a growing medium and repotted for the winter.
  • Thanksgiving or Christmas cactus can be forced into bloom. Provide plants 15 hours of complete darkness each day for about eight weeks. Keep temperature at about 60 to 65 degrees.
  • Poinsettias should be kept in complete darkness for 15 hours daily from about Oct. 1 to about Dec. 10.
  • Begin stocking up gardening supplies before they are removed for the season from retailers’ shelves. Pots, potting mixes, fertilizers and other products may be harder to find later in the season.

General landscape

  • Don’t be alarmed if evergreens, especially white pine and arborvitae, drop needles. All evergreens shed needles at some time, but not all at once like deciduous plants do.
  • Apply high-nitrogen fertilizer to lawns at the rate of 1 pound actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. Here’s more info on taking care of established lawns.
  • Plant container-grown or balled-and-burlapped nursery stock. Mulch well and keep newly planted stock well watered until the ground freezes.
  • Reseed bare spots or put in new lawns using a good quality seed mixture. Fall is the best time to do lawn repairs or put in a new one.
  • Early fall is a good time to apply broadleaf weed killers. Follow label directions and spray on a calm day to prevent drift.
  • Continue watering gardens, shrubs and trees if rainfall doesn’t reach an inch or more every week or 10 days. It’s important for plants to go into cold weather with adequate moisture.
  • Prepare new beds now for planting next spring. The soil is usually easier to work in the fall and fall-prepared beds allow for earlier plantings in spring. Beds may be mulched with compost, chopped leaves or other organic material during the winter, if desired. Avoid fall tilling when there’s a chance of soil erosion.
  • Apply a layer of organic materials to garden beds in the fall. This includes rotted or composted manure, compost, chopped leaves or a slow-release organic fertilizer.
  • Plant, transplant or divide peonies, daylilies, poppies, iris, phlox and other perennials.
  • Order spring-flowering bulbs or purchase locally. Begin planting them at the end of the month. Planting too early can cause top growth to sprout before winter; allow four to six weeks for good root formation before ground freezes.
  • Dig tender bulbs, such as cannas, caladiums, tuberous begonias and gladiolus, before frost. Air dry and store in dry peat moss or vermiculite.
  • Cut flowers in the garden for drying and use in everlasting arrangements. Strawflower, statice, baby’s breath, celosia and other plants can be hung upside down in a well-ventilated dry area.

Vegetables and fruits

  • Dig onions and garlic after tops fall over and necks begin to dry.
  • Plant radishes, sets for green onions, lettuce and spinach for fall harvest.
  • Thin fall crops, such as lettuce and carrots, that were planted earlier.
  • Harvest tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, melons and sweet potatoes before frost; cover plants with blankets, newspapers (no plastic) to protect from light frost.
  • Harvest winter squash when mature (skin is tough) with deep, solid color, but before hard frost.
  • Harvest apples, pears, grapes, ever-bearing strawberries and raspberries.
  • Remove raspberry canes after they bear fruit.
  • Keep area around apple (including crabapple) and other fruit trees clean of fallen fruit, twigs and leaves to reduce insects and disease carryover.