October 2005
Victoria County Master Gardener Association
Ground rules and tools for October 2005
  Now's the time to play with your landscape, plant fall veggies
October 6, 2005

GAIL DENTLER Victoria County Master Gardener Intern Are you ready for some planting? Are you ready for harvesting? Fall is a wonderful time. The air is a little cooler, vegetables are ready for picking and you have some new plants you purchased from the Master Gardener plant sale or from your local nursery that need to be planted. So let's fall into some gardening habits for this October.

Fall is a great time to play with your landscape. You can start by auditioning plants in certain areas. If you don't like how a plant is performing in a certain area, move it to another area. If you have bought new shrubs, arrange them and let them sit there for a couple of days just to see if they live up to your expectations. Take your time in arranging the plants.

Once you have decided, begin planting and fertilizing them. If you are transplanting plants, make sure you get enough of the soil around the root ball and hold them by this soil ball, not the trunk. Dig the hole twice as wide and check the depth so the plant is the same height as before moving it. Apply a root stimulator before placing the plant in its new home. Backfill the areas with the same soil you removed when digging. Begin to water, removing any air pockets that exist. Trim the plant's top growth. Trimming helps with the loss of root structure during the dig. Remember to watch it for transplant shock. Key signs of shock are premature dropping of leaves or color changes from dark green to a light or brownish color. Moving these plants in the fall helps the plant to reestablish root systems and to eliminate shock to the plant, allowing the plant to grow under the earth while the plant on top remains unchanged.

Other plants that can be planted in the fall are snapdragons, pansies, dianthus, larkspur, nicotiana, phlox and poppies. Most of these flowers will grow to a height of 12-15 inches with an exception of larkspur whose height reaches 24 inches. These plants require fertilization and watering through winter. Once established you will begin to see blooms. Some of these might slump in midsummer but will have a comeback in the fall. Some other plants that can be planted using partial shade are ornamental kale, ornamental cabbage, lambs ear and artemesia. These plants can be grown for foliage and can bring texture to the garden.

Another chore on the "to do" list is dividing and resetting perennials. If you have phlox, violets, irises, daylilies and Shasta daisies, dig clumps by selecting a single unit with your hand. Separate it and pull it out. It is not necessary to use a shovel. Space them according to the size of the plant. Remember their growth span and plant them so they are the same height as before.

Next on the list: Remove all annuals that have completed their life cycle. For example: zinnias, vincas or whatever is not performing and blooming. Remove tops of all perennials that are finished flowering - or if there has been a first frost, watch for the leaves to change. Once this has happened remove the dead leaves.

Vegetable gardens in the area should be producing wonderful vegetables by now, but this year's recent extreme temperatures have challenged fall vegetables. The Texas gardener also needs to prepare for blue northers. If you are planting tomatoes, the cages that surround them can be used as a green house by covering each cage with a piece of plastic or plastic bag. Anchored cages can also be used to act as supports for a larger covered structure. For example, if a row of beans, squash or peppers is surrounded by the tomato cages, a large sheet of plastic can be used to drape over from the base of one row to the base of another row anchoring any loose plastic. Be careful to observe the foliage, and make sure the plastic does not come into contact with the plants. After danger of the blue norther has passed, roll the plastic to one side. Keep it there in case another blue norther threatens your veggies.

If you are a first-time vegetable gardener you could be wondering when to harvest. Here are some tips to help. Beans should be snapped when pods are full size with little growth in the seed area. The flower heads of broccoli should when they are firm, but before the individual flowers start opening. On cabbage, the heads should be solid. Carrots will have the roots at 3/4 to 1 inch in diameter. Leaf lettuce is ready to pick when the outer leafs are 4 to 6 inches long. Head forms of lettuce should be picked when the head is firm and before seed stalk starts. Potatoes will have a firm skin and new potato tubers may be dug at any size, but generally are not harvested before the tubers are 11/4 to 11/2 inch in diameter. Radishes will have roots that are 3/4- to 1/2-inch diameter and winter squash will have rinds that are firm and glossy and the bottom of the fruit will have a cream or orange coloring. Of course we haven't covered all the vegetables here but this will give you an idea of what to look for.

The last of the maintenance work to be done includes picking any seeds and composting. Seeds can be collected, air-dried, labeled and stored in an airtight refrigerator until you are ready to use. Collecting leaves can be done to add to or start a compost pile. One idea that was shared with the master gardener class of 2004 is to collect leaves and add them to the unused rows of the garden. You need to layer leaves with the appropriate amount of commercial fertilizer and soil. Then allow the area to bake in the winter sun. This will allow you to use the space of the garden and prepare the soil for spring planting. You will also be able to turn the compost/soil mix with a garden fork with an easier motion. Then in the spring, form new rows from the compost area that was created in the fall.

One season leads to another - and this is certainly the case in the garden. What you do now will prepare for upcoming seasons. The Fall Master Gardener Symposium that was scheduled for the Saturday of Hurricane Rita will even carry over to another season. To those of you who signed up, you can expect a refund for your registration. It was impossible to get all the speakers lined up for an alternative fall date, so look for it to be re-scheduled sometime in the spring. In the meantime, enjoy your new plants in cooler weather in the garden.