Gardening Tips

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Welcome to October everyone. We are beginning to receive much needed rain, so needless to say, my garden and I could not be happier. Lets hope this beneficial rain continues to nourish our plants.

Don’t put away the tools just yet. You still have time over the next few weeks to divide summer blooming perennials, which have been in the ground for three years or more. Dividing perennials gives them a new lease on life and encourages more prolific bloom next season. The rules on transplanting also cover dividing.  Later on in these tips I explain how to plant, transplant and divide.

Fall planting with the soil remaining above 40 degrees gives plants a head start on plants planted in spring.  This is especially true, when we have a late cold, wet spring, which has happened in recent years. However, evergreens will have to wait until next spring, as they cannot be planted after September; the reason being is they have shallow roots and need time to establish before the heavy frosts.   

At this juncture I want to speak as to what Franklin D Roosevelt said in 1937 that  ‘the nation that destroys its soil destroys itself’. America has not heeded that warning. Precious soils in this country and around the world are being destroyed by dangerous practices in industrialized agriculture and poisonous chemicals, which completely disrupts our eco system and poisoning all living things.

Good news for organic gardeners – in your own garden you can build and retain a rich growing environment. In your own garden you can do this by building the Humus component. We are all carbon-based creatures as is all life on earth. Not only humans but also our soil microbes need carbon to flourish.  To attract carbon from the atmosphere need to build the humus component.

Do not till soil – tilling breaks up soil structure.  Add composted manure three times through the year  – Mid May, July and October. Manure builds soil structure and provides a rich planting environment for the following season by encouraging the millions of soil animals down below to manufacture nutrients for the roots of the plants.

Add mulch in the form of brown fine bark mulch or wood chips that you produce from your garden – aged wood chips with a combo of leaves, twigs and branches. With manure and fine bark mulch, you are building the humus component, which needs to continue year after year for the richest organic planting environment.    

Mulching the garden and in particular any plants planted, divided or transplanted this fall with two inches of fine bark mulch, after the ground begins to cool in late October, will keep warmth and moisture in the soil and protect the roots of your plants through the winter.

Humus acts like a sponge – can hold 90% of its weight in water.

Because of its negative charge – plant nutrients stick to humus for nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus and others, which prevents these from washing away, acts as nature’s slow release fertilizer.

Humus improves soil structure making it loose and friable, which helps plant root in this soil environment better access to nutrients, water and oxygen.

Humus also helps’ filter’ toxic chemicals from the soil, mulch like carbon-based water filtration systems filter toxins from your water.

Cannot control industrialized agricultural practices – in your own garden you can make a difference.   Grow the soil and the soil will grow the plants.

Mulch and peat, which provides the acidity is particularly important for any newly planted broadleaf evergreens installed in September. As mentioned previously, evergreens are shallow rooted, and can heave above ground in hard frosts.  I suggest that you store a few bags of topsoil and mulch in the shed or garage.  When you see exposed roots cover them with the soil and mulch until the plant can be resettled next spring.       

MULCH – mulch the garden and in particular any plants planted, divided or transplanted this fall with two inches of fine bark mulch, after the ground begins to cool in late October, this will keep warmth and moisture in the soil and protect the roots of your plants through the winter.

Now let’s look at what should be done now in the vegetable garden focusing first on cover crops.  In a couple of weeks I will cut down the finished crops and dig them lightly into the soil.

This year, my choice for a cover crop in one area of the vegetable garden, this year is Alfalfa which has a 3.4% nitrogen content and on the opposite side of the garden Buckwheat which has a 1.4% nitrogen content and also provides nectar for beneficial insects. I will then cover the seeds with organic composted manure and compost; the ratio of these natural elements is one part compost to three parts manure. There are many cover crops to choose from and I use white clover and rye grass in alternate years.  In spring when the earth is workable not too wet or cold, the cover crop is turned into the earth as ‘green manure’.  

There is nothing better than your own homegrown organic vegetables – good for you and for the environment. If you do not know what to do or do not have the time I suggest you get in touch with Ian by contacting him on this website.   

Also the less hectic pace of fall provides an opportunity to re-think your gardens. The garden’s pre-winter grooming will wait for a few weeks.  You may feel that you want a professional design, having thrown good money after bad and nothing still looks right.  

If that is so then contact someone that you trust to work with you to create a plan in the fall and winter, which can be phased in beginning next spring.  Engage someone who will listen to your needs, and stay within your budget.  Ian always says ‘it is not what you do in the garden, but how it makes you feel’. Take a look at this website for photos of the lovely gardens of every size that he has created.


I hope, by now that you have ordered your spring bulbs; early ordering ensures the best selection.  When ordering from a reputable catalogue or on line or simply buying from the local garden center for example, Daffodils, choose early, mid season and late blooming Daffodils, which will give you a succession of bloom.

Be adventurous this year and go for masses of a single color for the greatest impact.  No matter how small your planting area – it is the intensity that counts, with two or three dozen red Tulips or a hundred Daffodils planted on your woodland edge.

Buying daffodils in large numbers is less expensive, the bulbs are usually smaller -this is not a problem as daffodil bulbs grow in size each year. Even though many say the spacing between these larger bulbs should be six inches, there is no reason they cannot touch.  

Put some composted manure or bulb food on the soil where the bulbs are planted. Wear gloves when you plant bulbs as they have a skin irritant, which may cause a rash.

The general rule is to plant bulbs about three times as deep as the bulb is tall and with the pointed end up.  This method is appropriate for most bulbs although tulips should be planted about twelve inches down if you want to have bloom for a second year. Daffodils should be planted no less than nine inches down, which is below the frost line.  Don’t plant the bulbs singly for the most colorful impact– plant in groups of odd numbers, 5,7 or 9 bulbs (odd numbers are harmonious in nature).

Small bulbs like crocus, can be tossed gently into a shallow trench with composted manure on the bottom of the trench, about three inches deep and plant them where they land, pointed side up. For larger bulbs like tulips and daffodils dig a trench about nine inches deep and three or four feet long also of course with composted manure on the bottom and scatter these larger bulbs in the trench, also with the pointed end of the bulb faces up!

Personally, I treat Tulips as annuals because their first year’s bloom is the best, after that first year the bloom is never as full and vibrant; the only exception to this is the parrot tulip, which flourish for years.  

Tulips are the ‘caviar’ of the bulb family. The best method to prevent them from becoming a tasty item on the rodent’s menu is to soak them in an organic deer repellent, also repels rodents, and allows the tulip bulbs to dry before planting.

If you cannot plant your bulbs immediately when you receive them, keep them in a cool, dry place in paper bags.  The best time to plant spring bulbs in the Northeast is the end of October to the middle of November.

Observe Mother Nature; plants in nature do not grow in straight lines, and they appear in gentle curves that connect harmoniously with the earth.  

PLANTING AND TRANSPLANTING PLANTS – in fall the soil remains warm enough for planting through October and this year even into mid November. When planting a tree or shrub, dig la hole at least one and a half times as wide, not deep, as the root ball.  

To emphasize my earlier comment – evergreens because of their shallow root system cannot be planted later than September so please wait until next spring to plant evergreens.

Another cardinal rule: Do not plant the tree or shrub any deeper than it is in the container or balled burlap. Or when transplanting any plant, tree, and shrub, perennial do not plant any deeper than it was originally in your garden as planting too deep can be the death of plants.

If you are unable to dig to any depth for your plant in the case of ledge in your garden, berm up the soil on the ledge and plant so that part of the root ball is above the soil grade, mounding soil around it.  

Handle your tree or shrub by its root ball, not by the trunk or branches.  After planting and transplanting add composted manure and, one part compost around the plant. If you do not have compost, manure is most important.  Water deeply, slowly and thoroughly when planting and at least twice a week through the fall until the first hard frost, which in this part of New England is usually about the second week of November.

The following trees are not good candidates for fall planting:

Birches, Larches, Gingko, Oaks, Magnolia, and all flowering fruit and flowering trees as well as the Eastern Red Cedar.  These trees have fleshy root systems and their feeder roots are not large when young and take time to establish, therefore are susceptible to frost heave.

Also some perennials that do not like to be planted in fall are Artemisia, Lambs Ears, Foxglove, Penstemon, Anemone, Campanula, Kniphofia, Lupines, Scabiosa, Ferns and Grasses.

Plant garlic this fall – garlic is the antibiotic of the garden. Plant it under fruit trees to avoid scab and root disease, next to ponds or standing water to control mosquito larvae or pour garlic water into ponds, bird baths and fountains to deter adult mosquitoes.

TREE WORK – choose a licensed arborist. This work is much less expensive to have done in the fall when the foliage has left the trees the arborist is able to see more clearly what needs to be done and the work goes faster – meaning less labor time.

If you have deep shade and want more sunlight in an area, ask the arborist to thin out the tree’s canopy and prune lower branches to make for a sunnier area, this will give you more choice of plants that will grow in dappled rather than deep shade.  In September we had an arborist thin out the canopy of maples on a job site we were working on to allow sun into the landscape.

If you have a badly damaged tree, meaning over 50% damaged or diseased then have it removed, giving you an area for a sun garden or perhaps the vegetable garden you have always wanted.  

I do not cut down my spent perennials in fall, leaving them up so that I can enjoy the browns, grays, and yellows and faded greens, which blend gently with winter’s muted landscape. A much more pleasant sight than the cut stalks in the garden.  Also the seed heads of the perennials are wonderful snacks for the birds, it’s a joy to see their antics through the cold weather. What better sight than a red cardinal on the Winterberry bush in the snow.  

Also wait until next April to cut down ornamental grasses; their graceful foliage is lovely to look; the icicles on them shining in the pale winter sun.

Early spring blooming perennials such as Iris can be divided up to the second week of October; the soil should still be quite warm and with adequate moisture there will be enough root growth to anchor these divisions before frost heave becomes a problem.

When dividing Iris cover the horizontal root divisions (the rhizomes) with just enough soil so they do not topple over, any deeper and they will not flower, of course add composted manure around them when planted.

Any spent perennials that show disease should be cut down but if the plant is more than one third diseased it should be dug up and discarded. The diseased material cleaned up and discarded it in the garbage not in the compost. Clean up any fallen plant debris from the soil and ONLY if it is disease and weed free, can it be added to the compost pile.

Peonies – In November after the first hard frost, cut down peonies to within six inches from the ground and add some composted manure around the base of the plant.

SIGNS OF FROST – You can foretell a hard frost when you notice the afternoon temperature falling fast under a clear sky.  Assess the wind, by taking a long strip of plastic, like a shopping bag from the supermarket, and hang it from a tree branch, as long as it flutters about a foot in either direction, you do not have to worry about frost, but if it blows vigorously then frost is on the way.  If you still have plants in the garden that are of concern, cover them with salt hay, newspapers or light weight old quilts and put a brown paper bag from the grocery store over smaller plants like herbs, anchored down with rocks.      

Your houseplants should be indoors by now. Following their summer sojourn outdoors. Wash the pots thoroughly and add fresh potting soil.  Then replant the plant at the same depth it was at originally and put in the sink or shower and allow water to wash the foliage and water the plant well.  If the plant has outgrown its pot, transplant it to the next size clean pot, only one and a half inches larger.

Enjoy the mild days of fall and I’ll see you in your garden next month.

I will be doing my last show for the season on WRCH 100.5 on Thursday October 20th between 8 and 8.30 a.m.  Hope you can listen and call in some questions.  If you cannot get through email me




43 Responses to Gardening Tips

  1. admin says:

    Barbara, buy some organic Neem oil, it works on the red lily beetles. Maureen

  2. barbara says:

    My lilies have red beetles on them. What do I do?

  3. sharon says:

    My climbing Rose bush seems to have all little holes in the green leaves. It had looked so healthy at the beginning of the season. Seems to have buds but nothing flowering yet. Please advise – looking for my flowers to bring me joy this year as that’s all I have at this point – tough year. Please help if you can………Thanks, Sharon

  4. admin says:

    Don, Mountain Laurel are shallow rooted and if they were planted any deeper than they came in the pot or burlap covering they will not do well. If you feel they were planted too deep, dig them up and replant with enough soil so they do not fall over and add manure and peat to the planting mix and mix with a brown fine bark mulch and keep watered through the season. Do not worry about the black spot, that should take care of itself. Maureen

  5. don says:

    we have mountain laurel that were planted last year. in mostly shade and this year neither plant looks good. they have black spots on the leaves and the leaves are dried out. what can we do to save these plants? thank you

  6. admin says:

    Cindy, on this website click on ‘what to use in the garden’ and look for soap shield to use on the mountain laurel. Maureen

  7. admin says:

    Cindy, the harsh winter wind of the last few years has caused leaf damage to the mountain laurel, they should respond to the spring weather with some manure and peat (they like acidity) around them and some fine bark mulch to protect their shallow roots. Let me know later in the season how they respond. Maureen

  8. Cindy says:

    My parents have several approx. 15 year old mountain laurels that they love. Each year lately they look terrible with brown spots all over the leaves. Could this be some type of fungus, and do you have any reccommendations? Thank you.

  9. admin says:

    Barbara, do not cut back the hydrangea now, at the end of April plant it in the garden, no deeper than it has been planted in the pot. Add manure to the planting mix and keep it watered while the roots establish. For future care, on the home page of the website type in the search box ‘hydrangeas’ and an article amongst others will come up as to their care. Good luck Maureen

  10. Barbara says:

    Could you please tell me if now is a good time to cut back my hydrangea that has been in the house for the winter. and if so how far do I cut it back??? Thanks so much.

  11. admin says:

    Deb, you obviously have a deep problem with crab grass. Check the website ‘what to use in the garden’ for the organic crab grass killer and apply it each month through the season until it eliminates the problem. Good luck Maureen

  12. Deb says:

    I have a question bout crabgrass. I don’t remember if it was something of yours that I read or heard about good drainage but sandy soil. My husband puts down crab grass killer every year and we still get crab grass come late July and August in one corner of the back yard. I told my husband you said we need more top soil. Can you please give me some tips so I can give them to my husband, my father-in-law has the same problem. My husband takes great pride in his lawn but he can’t stop the crab grass.

  13. admin says:

    Theresa, on the website on the home page, click on ‘what to use in the garden’ and that will direct you to the Gardens Alive site for organic fertilizer and grass seed. Maureen

  14. Theresa says:

    Can you please tell me which organic fertilizer I can use on my lawn to make it green and the name of any good grass seed to plant in shade and semi-shade areas.
    Thank you for your good advice.

  15. admin says:

    Barbara, transplant the hydrangea at the end of April. Do not plant it any deeper in the new location than it is in the ground now. When you dig it up, keep the roots covered with its original soil and plant immediately, air getting to the roots can damage the plant. Add manure to the top soil mix and water frequently so that the roots will re-establish. Maureen

  16. admin says:

    Lynda, prune the lilacs immediately after blooming about one third, this must be done then so that you do not prune off next season’s buds. In November prune out the suckers at ground level at the base of the trunk. In April add some manure and lime around the base. Maureen

  17. admin says:

    Lorraine, prune the ninebark shrubs after they have flowered and prune by about one third. Good luck Maureen

  18. Lorraine says:

    I have two diablio ninebarks shrubs (3 yrs old) planted close to my foundation. They are getting tall and very bushy even though I prune them. Am I pruning too much? When is the best time to prune and how much can I take off? Thank you Maureen

  19. Lynda says:

    I have two lilac bushes/trees. One in full sun light, the other more shaded. The first two years they looked great, but now i’m not getting alot of blossoms. I was told not to prune, is is correct?

  20. Barbara says:

    When is the best time to transplant a hydrangea plant?

  21. Peggy Petrovits says:

    I have an asparagus bed. Is it time to manure.? May I continue with the manure for ALL of the garden and shrubs and plants.? Thank you for your most need advise.

  22. admin says:

    Hi Dennis, cut it back to a foot from the ground at the end of next March and put some manure around the base. Have a great holiday season and finish up all gardening tasks before the weather changes. Maureen

  23. admin says:

    Sharon, prune the climbing rose to keep it in check by about three feet now and then in April by as much again if needed. Put some manure and mulch around the base and do not cover it. Many trees, shrubs and others did not bloom well this season due to lack of sun and too much rain in June. Put my old faithful manure and mulch around the base and hopefully next season the sun will shine for us. Maureen

  24. Sharon says:

    What do I do for my climbing Roses for the winter? They are real tall. Should I cut back? Should I cover with something? Should I put mulch all around for the winter? Also Rose of Sharon bush did not blossom this year – what should I do for it for the winter? Thanks so much for any help you can provide!

  25. admin says:

    Terry, perhaps the tree you purchased was not one of the fernleaf maples. But I hope you enjoy the one you have. Horse manure is as good as cow manure, but needs to be aged at least four months before use, but only use horse manure from stables where straw or peat is used as bedding, as wood shavings may be a source of plant disease.
    Good luck Maureen

  26. terry says:

    Hi ,
    I was wondering if you could help.
    I bought a dwarf japanese red maple tree, and this year is has grown over 5 ft
    tall. It’s not red and its not getting wide and low to the ground like those beautiful
    ones I see in other peoples gardens.
    What should I do? Also is horse manure just as good as cow ?
    Thanks for your input.

  27. admin says:

    Barbara, on my website in the search box, type in Hydrangea and you will find an article I wrote about the care of Hydrangeas. Enjoy Maureen

  28. Barbara says:

    I have a pink hydrangea which had 3 blooms last year…but don’t see anything coming so far this year… It is July…others in the same garden are beginning to bloom…

    Thanks, Barbara

  29. admin says:

    Denise, the butterfly bush needs full, rich soil with plenty of manure and peat, as it likes acid, and the soil needs to drain well. If your bush is close to the house it could be getting a lime run off from the foundation of the house, so it would be best to move it, which you can still do now if the bush is not too large or the extra peat could counteract the lime effect. Good luck Maureen

  30. Denise says:

    Half of my butterfly bush is growing well but the other half has brown tipped foliage. This is happening to three out of the four butterfly bushes I have in a row. What could be happening? ( This occurred last summer as well) Thank you-

  31. admin says:

    Rose, If you work outside the home and do not have time to water your containers in the morning before you leave, you can empty your ice trays in the container which will give slow release watering to the plants until you can water them later in the day. Make sure that once a week you give the containers a dilute application of organic fertilizer. Good luck Maureen

  32. Rose says:

    I heard the end of a question on the radio but did not get it all something about ice cubes in your plant. Can you tell me what that means?


  33. admin says:

    Beverly, On the website go to “what to use in the garden” and click on the site and I feel you will find a remedy there or in the eco shoppe. Also all animals usually stay away from anything fragrant like lavender or honeysuckle. Good luck Maureen

  34. Beverly says:

    I have stray cats in my area. What can I use to deterred them from using
    both my flower and vegetable gardens as a toilet and spraying spot. A fence
    doesn’t work. Is there any type of flower they don’t like the smell? Anything
    thing organic that can be used? Thank you.

  35. Keith says:

    I am starting to discover gardening and have a question on Tiger Lilly plants. I have some that have just grown over the years. Is there a good time to dig them up and break them up, replanting them?


  36. Jillian says:

    I love lavender and have been trying to grow it for years potted indoors (I am in an apartment). They always die on me so quickly! I am finally moving to a house, and would love to plant (and keep alive) some lavender plants. What are your suggestions? I have visited other websites that gave “helpful hints” but they were confusing.

    Thank you,

  37. Joan M. says:

    How & when should hydrangers be pruned?

  38. The English Lady says:

    Cut it back now to about 18″ from the ground and add aged manure. Happy gardening. Maureen

  39. The English Lady says:

    Dear Marge, Root prune the vine by taking a spade and digging straight down into the root system about two feet from the main trunk; this should shock the plant into blooming, also add aged manure around the base. Maureen

  40. Betsy says:

    I am new to gardening. When and how should I cut back my Russian Sage

  41. Marge says:

    My trumpet flower vine (I sent this message and listed this vine as a hummingbird vine) refuses to flower. It fully covers our trellis but I would enjoy it more if it flowered. Please give me some suggestions. It is about 4 yrs. old.

  42. The English Lady says:

    Louisa, Cut the butterfly bush down to about two feet from the ground now and move it when the ground warms up in Mid May. You cannot make two plants out of one. Enjoy your garden. Maureen

  43. louisa w******* says:

    when can i move my butterfly bushes? and can i make 2 plants out one?

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