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This week in your Massachusetts garden & landscape

Week of September 12, 2016 By Ron Kujawski

Get out this weekend and look for colorful fall foliage.

No, I haven’t been imbibing fermented cabbage juice, nor am I jumping the gun on the fall foliage season.  True, it is early for normal fall foliage, but I’m not talking about normal here.

You see, one of the best symptoms that a tree is stressed is premature development of fall color.  Observing this color change is the first step in diagnosing a tree problem.  The next step is more difficult, and that is figuring out what is causing the stress.  Obviously, drought has been a big factor this year and is a prime cause of premature color fall color, especially on normally dry sites. However, other possibilities include: over-fertilizing, root damage incurred during construction, bark injury from mowers or string trimmers, improper planting depth, mulch piled high against the trunk, excessive application of herbicide to surrounding turfgrass, or a dog with a fatal attraction for the tree.  With careful and objective analysis the amateur can often diagnose the problem.  However, if the solution is not obvious, it is best to hire a consulting arborist.  The arborist may be able to save the tree or at least keep it from falling on the dog house.

While you’re out, tackle these tasks:

  • Gently push on the stem attaching cantaloupe to its vine.  If the stem comes loose easily, the cantaloupe is ripe.  If there is resistance, let it be.
  • Harvest pumpkins as soon as they are ready, that is, when the rind is hard and the color is a uniformly deep orange.  Pumpkins that are to be stored shouldn’t be exposed to freezing temperatures. Also, for longer storage life, leave the handles attached to the fruit.  Pumpkins stored at a temperature of about 55 degrees F and moderate humidity will keep for 2 to 3 months, about long enough to use for Thanksgiving Day pumpkin pie.
  • Leave some peppers on plants and allow these to turn red before harvesting.  Red peppers have a milder, sweeter taste than green peppers.  Of course, when frost threatens, all bets are off; pick them all regardless of color or size.
  • Remove spent vegetable plants from gardens but also pull up any weeds, especially those setting seed.  Also, haul out perennial grasses, roots and all, since they have more lives than a lucky cat.
  • Cut back the spent flower stems plus a little more of the leafy stem on lavender plants. I’ve been told by commercial growers of lavender that there is less winter dieback on plants if the spent flower stems are removed in late summer – early fall.  I’ve been following that advice for several years now and have found it to be true.
  • Finish dividing daylilies, irises, and other perennials this weekend.  The replanted divisions need some time before soils cool down to re-establish strong root systems in order for the plants to survive the winter.

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