Therapeutic garden time killing

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By Al Hight, Brunswick County Extension

Even though the fall has been fairly mild this year, the list of chores in the garden is much shorter—no grass to mow, fewer weeds to fight. There’s always football, basketball, hockey, eating too much and all of those parties and family get-togethers during the holiday season to fill the time, but there’s nothing more therapeutic than getting some dirt under those fingernails. 

Turn off your automated irrigation systems now unless you’ve just added new plants. Plants that have survived the past summer should have adequate roots to make it on natural rainfall through the shorter and cooler days of fall and winter. If the natural water spigot is turned off for several weeks, you can always run the irrigation system manually. 

You’re always better off to water only when necessary even during the main part of the growing season. Most folks water too often and don’t apply enough water in each cycle. Unless you’re on coarse sands near the beach, it shouldn’t be necessary to operate the system more than three times weekly for established plants. Lots of gardens in the area will do just fine with irrigation only once each week, if it’s done thoroughly. 

This is the perfect time to plant spring-flowering bulbs like daffodils and tulips. The narcissus genus that includes the daffodils is the only group that reliably returns year after year. Most tulips and hyacinths won’t stick around for an encore performance next year, but you can plant them as annuals. 

Pick a spot with plenty of sun and good drainage. Add a “bulb booster” fertilizer for the daffodils and make sure you remember where you planted them so you don’t dig them up later by mistake.

Once the frost browns your herbaceous perennials like salvias, rudbeckias, lantanas and coneflowers, go ahead and cut and remove the fried foliage. Some folks will suggest that, if you cut the foliage now and expose the stems, the plants will die. This is espoused as gospel, especially on lantana. Lantanas that don’t make it through the winter usually just aren’t cold hardy. Others like New Gold aren’t going to die unless you plant them upside down or under water no matter how you prune them.

You may be tired of hearing it, but this is a great time to take soil, nematode and water samples from the lawn and garden. If you wait until January and February, you may have to wait six weeks for the results. 

We have an excellent service in North Carolina that is provided through the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in Raleigh. Soil samples are “free” since you don’t have to pay anything directly out-of-pocket. Nematode samples are $3 each while water samples will set you back $5. These are the great bargains of the century. 

We’ll be happy to help you with directions on taking the samples and all of the boxes and information sheets to make sure you get the results. Just call the Cooperative Extension office in Bolivia at 253-2610. We can’t mail the boxes to you, but many of the garden centers and nurseries in the area have those in stock. 

Once you receive the results, we can help you interpret what the numbers mean and appropriate actions to take.