PLANT SOME FALL VEGETABLES – Transplants of cabbage family relatives are still available in garden centers this week, so tear out the past-prime tomatoes, squash & beans, add some compost, and get planting! Water well, then spread out some mulch between plants; salt hay works really well to keep in moisture, and its light color reflects some of the heat away from the soil. I always spray my baby plants well (top & bottom) with BT or Neem before planting, to kill off any tiny worms that might already be on them. Then cover with floating row cover to keep out the butterflies. If you skip this step and cover plants without spraying, you’re liable to find that along with keeping visiting bugs OUT, you’ve done a great job of protecting the guys that are already IN. If you don’t have spray available, inspect each plant for the teeny little eggs and squish them before planting and covering. Row cover (or insect screening) works best in combination with wire hoops, and holds in place with clothespins. You can also bend pvc pipe into the right shape, but then the clothespins don’t fit. NOTE: we’re starting to see a plethora of VOTE FOR___ signs sprouting up everywhere. The metal frames on the smaller ones bend nicely into hoops, and hey, they’re giving them away on street corners. If you haven’t been plagued by harlequin bugs on your cole crops, you might also consider spreading mustard or arugula seeds between transplants as a microgreen groundcover.
CHECK YOUR ROSES – This morning I rode through the drive-through at McDonald’s. Often they have neatly planted if not even neatly maintained landscapes around their locations, and many of them are planted up with knockout roses. Knockouts were the answer to all of our rose problems a few years ago, but now the problems have caught up with us. The dreaded fungus of Rose Rosette disease shows itself this time of year with gnarly red new growth and really hairy stems. You can buy a few more years by pruning out to below the ugly stuff, but remember to rinse your pruners in hand sanitizer or rubbing alcohol between cuts. You might get a few extra years out of them by doing this. The fungus is spread through the roots, so you’ll see it go down the line in the landscape from plant to plant.
DO THE BORING STUFF – Weed, water, mulch, clean while the weather is cool and you have an extra day off.
APPRECIATE THE MONARCHS – And not just the ones on reruns of Game of Thrones. Those beautiful striped caterpillars that are currently decimating the milkweeds are bulking up for the long road to Mexico. Yesterday we observed all the different stages of development, from tiny worms, through wrinkly butterfly about to emerge from the chrysalis, on to the empty shell abandoned by the full-fledged butterfly. This “Super generation,” the fourth of the year, will emerge, feed, and head south, often a mile up into the atmosphere, to overwinter in another country, regardless of whether a wall has been built or not.
SLASH & BURN – Well, at least the slash part. This week I went out along the borders of my yard, and counted waaaay too many vines that are thriving in the hot & dry Philadelphia weather. Honeysuckle, wisteria, porcelain vine, fall clematis, morning glory, wild sweet potato, wild cucumber, fox grapes, and KUDZU?? are establishing a stranglehold on the edges of everything, squeezing tighter & tighter. Get out there early in the morning and STRIKE BACK! (Early morning because you need long pants, long sleeves, boots and a hat to protect yourself.) (REALLY early if you put on a hazmat suit and don’t want the neighbors to fear invasion.) I prefer a hand scythe to a machete, but if you have anger management issues, the machete is much more appropriate. And having just spent 4 hours this morning working out my aggressions on a 70-foot vine-covered fence line, I have a little more sympathy for the PennDot folks who are out there enthusiastically spraying the highways with weedkiller this year.
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Sally McCabe is Assoc. Director of Community Education at PHS, and grows stuff at two community gardens and in her backyard. She has been a faithful Primex customer since all the way back when Pops (David’s grandfather) was still around.