Spring-flowering bulbs such as tulips, daffodils and crocus can be planted from now through October giving bulbs time to establish roots before the required chilling period during winter months.
Choose an area with full sun to part shade. Ideally the soil should be a sandy loam, but if not, it can be amended by adding compost to a depth of at least one-foot. Incorporate fertilizer based on a soil test or use a 5-10-5 at a rate of three pounds per 100 square feet. The soil pH should be between 6.0 and 7.0.
Determine the planting depth based on the bulb size. Planting depth refers to the distance from the bottom of the hole, where the base of the bulb will rest, to the surface of the soil once the hole is backfilled. Bulbs the size of tulips and hyacinths are typically planted six-inches deep while daffodil-size bulbs should be six- to eight-inches deep. In general, bulbs should be planted two to three times as deep as their width. Space large bulbs four- to six-inches apart. Small bulbs can be spaced one- to two-inches apart. Mass plantings create a more aesthetically-pleasing display when spring blooms emerge.
Backfill each hole halfway and water in to settle the soil. Replace the remaining soil and water again. Though you will not see above-ground growth in the fall, roots are still growing. Keep the soil moist and add mulch after the soil freezes to provide insulation and prevent bulbs from being heaved out of the soil. (Cynthia Domenghini)
Organic matter can aide in replenishing almost any type of soil. It improves tilth, aeration and water absorption of clay soil. In sandy soils, it acts as a sponge by holding water and nutrients. Adding organic materials gathered in the landscape directly to the garden is an easy and inexpensive way to enjoy these benefits.
Materials such as grass clippings (untreated), leaves, old mulch and straw are some examples of organic matter that can improve the soil. Shred large materials using a mower or other tool so they will decompose more quickly. Spread a layer about three-inches thick over the surface of the garden. Till or dig in the organic matter on a day when the soil is not saturated. Warm weather will expedite decomposition and this process can be repeated every other week into November or December when the cold slows decomposition significantly. (Cynthia Domenghini)
Photoperiodism, the amount of light or dark a plant is exposed to, affects the bloom of most plants. Some plants need longer periods of darkness and are known as “short-day” plants. Others require fewer dark hours, “long-day” plants.
Many summer flowers and vegetables are in the long-day category. Chrysanthemums, Christmas cactus and poinsettias fall in the short-day category. These plants require at least 12 hours of darkness every 24 hours in order to bloom. Growers can force blooming by controlling the light and dark periods.
If you have poinsettias from last year, follow these steps to encourage blooms in time for the holidays.
Fall can be a great time to plant trees and take advantage of the root growth that can occur while the soil is still warm before freezing begins. This gives trees a head start enabling them to endure spring growth and summer stress. Early September to late October is the ideal planting time for most trees. Some trees are not good candidates for fall planting such as beech, birch, redbud, magnolia, tulip poplar, willow oak, scarlet oak, black oak, willows and dogwood. These trees will not be able to establish roots in time to survive the winter.
Newly planted trees require some care even when the above-ground growth is dormant. The soil should remain moist so roots do not dry out. A layer of mulch can be beneficial for regulating soil temperature and reducing water loss. (Cynthia Domenghini)
With some relief from hot weather this week and colder temps on the way, it’s time to turn our attention to protecting cold-sensitive plants. Some gardeners move houseplants outdoors to bask in the summer heat and recover from the stress of an indoor environment. Planning for their reentry to the house is important so houseplants have time to adjust to the changes in growing conditions.
Before bringing any plants indoors, check thoroughly for pests. Small populations of insects, such as mites and aphids, can be dislodged by spraying the foliage with a hose. If the insects are found in the soil, soak the entire container in lukewarm water for 15 minutes. Plants with a heavy infestation may be better off discarded.
Once moved indoors, continue to monitor for pests to prevent spreading throughout the house. Plant growth will slow substantially indoors and will therefore require less water and fertilization. Most houseplants will benefit from receiving water only when the soil surface is dry. Fertilization will likely not be necessary until spring.
It is best to help plants adjust to the lower light conditions indoors gradually to prevent leaf drop. Initially, place plants near windows with the brightest light. Over several weeks move the plants further away until they’ve reached the desired location. Supplemental lighting can be provided with grow lights. Avoid cold drafts from doors and windows and heat from air vents. These extremes can put plants under stress.
Many houseplants come from tropical locations and favor humid conditions. Kitchens and bathrooms tend to be more humid areas inside the home. If space and lighting permits, this may be a good location for your plants. You can increase humidity for your plants by using a humidifier or grouping multiple plants together creating a microclimate. (Cynthia Domenghini)
Root cellars are a time-tested solution for storing the harvest surplus through winter. The temperature and humidity underground can provide favorable conditions for certain vegetables. Traditionally, onions, garlic, turnips, carrots and potatoes are stored in cellars. However, many types of fruits, squash, nuts and other vegetables can successfully be stored as well. Here are a few tips to increase the shelf-life of your harvest.
Although September is typically the preferred month to reseed cool-season lawns, such as tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass, with the heat we have been experiencing throughout the state, postponing may be a good idea. When temperatures are elevated as they have been recently, newly-planted seeds need additional water. Homeowners who put down seed during the heat may find themselves watering several times a day. By middle to late September, we should have relief from triple digits allowing homeowners time to re-seed.
Our usual recommendation is don’t plant Kentucky bluegrass past early October. However, you can get by with an early to mid-October planting for tall fescue. October 15 is generally considered the last day for safely planting or overseeding a tall fescue lawn in the fall. With a late seeding, take special care not to allow plants to dry out. Anything that slows growth will make it less likely that plants will mature enough to survive the winter.
Seeding after the cut-off date can work, but the success rate goes down the later the planting date. Late plantings often fail as a result of poorly rooted plants being heaved from the soil after repeated freezing and thawing. Roots are then exposed and quickly dry out. Help the seedlings establish a healthy root system prior to freezing weather by keeping them well-watered. See the August 29th newsletter for information on how to seed or overseed a lawn. (Cynthia Domenghini)
Cold soil negatively affects the quality of sweet potatoes in taste and shelf-life. To prevent this, harvest prior to the first fall freeze. Sweet potatoes are typically ready for harvest three to four months after planting. Gently unearth the sweet potatoes in one mound to check for readiness. You may also notice die-back of the above ground growth as harvest time approaches.
After digging, sweet potatoes need to be cured for several days. This process increases the shelf-life and flavor of the sweet potatoes. Curing should be done in a warm, humid location. Ideally the temperature should be between 85- and 90-degrees F with a relative humidity between 85 and 95%.
Store sweet potatoes for several weeks before consuming. During this time starches are converting to sugars which improves the flavor. Protect sweet potatoes during storage by keeping temperatures above 55 degrees F. (Cynthia Domenghini)
Ward Upham runs the Horticulture Response Center in the Department of Horticulture and Natural Resources at Kansas State University. Other contributors include K-State Extension Specialists.