Weekly Gardening Tips: Travel time

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By Bob Beyfuss

For Capital Region Independent Media

Headshot of a man named Bob Beyfuss.

“The older I get, the faster the summer seems to pass by” is a common complaint of old people, like myself, as fall approaches.

This year, since COVID seems now to be more of a bad memory than a current threat, my travel schedule has returned to “normal,” and I am enjoying being on the road once more!

I have made two week-long road trips this summer. I went to southeastern Ohio, the heart of Appalachia, in June, visited Wisconsin a couple of weeks ago and most recently I will be in North Carolina and Tennessee. Another trip to TN in October will cap off a busy and productive summer season.

I enjoy seeing the contrast between incredibly diverse ecosystems such as Appalachia and not-so diverse places like Wisconsin. Central Wisconsin is very much like upstate New York, which is more diverse than the Adirondacks, but it is so much less diverse than Appalachia.  

In between road trips, I managed to salvage some of my disastrous garden. I have been making tomato sauce with donated tomatoes and peppers and it looks like I may even harvest enough cucumbers to make some pickles.

Two years ago, it was not even possible to buy garden supplies or even canning jars to put up some of the produce. This year most items are available, they just cost twice as much as they did pre-COVID.

The world of 2022 is very different than the world of 2019 and not necessarily for the better. For the first time in my memory, average life spans of Americans have shortened, instead of lengthened, in the past two years.

This hot and very dry summer has resulted in some premature fall coloration as well as total leaf drop on certain species of trees. Roadside black locust, basswood, birches, sumac and maple seem most affected in my neighborhood.

Early fall color often indicates that the tree is unhealthy and already stressed. If your backyard maples are turning red, you should try to water them. A slow, barely dripping hose left at the dripline of the tree will provide water more efficiently than a sprinkler. The downpours I received recently have filled my rain barrels, but the forest soil is still bone dry. Seasonal creeks remain low or empty and this has been the worst wild mushroom season I can ever recall.   

It appears that my hummingbirds are acting strange, disappearing for days at a time, only to return for a brief sugar drink and then leave again. I suspect they are testing their wings for the long fly south to Mexico. Swarms of dragonflies have suddenly appeared, as if to fill the void.

I have seen only one bat this entire summer. Mosquito populations are much lower as a result of the drought, but it only takes a few days for them to reproduce in any container that has been filled with rainwater. Old tires left outdoors are among the worst offenders for providing breeding habitat. Make sure you empty any and all sources of standing water on your property after a storm. Most of the mosquitoes that harass you hatch from water sources within 50 yards of your house. Ponds that harbor fish do not have mosquitoes present, but seasonally wet, marshy areas do. Mosquito dunks offer effective control in rain barrels.

September is a good time to divide spring blooming perennials such as peonies, iris, columbine, Oriental poppies and others. Make sure you don’t bury the divisions too deeply. Peonies should be set with next spring’s buds no deeper than 1 inch below the soil surface. Iris root clumps often have borer damage at the center of the clump. Discard the infested inner sections and replant the roots from the outer edges only. Apply a 3-inch mulch of bark or woodchips after thoroughly watering them in. Don’t prune forsythia or any other spring flowering shrubs now as the flower buds for next year have already formed on the outer edges of the shoots.

It is generally not a good idea to top prune any woody plants now, as they are preparing to enter dormancy, but you can root prune any trees or shrubs you wish to transplant next spring. 

Proceed as if you are going to dig up the plant now, using your sharp shovel to dig a circle around the trunk. Stop right before you would normally lift the plant. The severed outer roots will force new root growth closer to the center, making transplanting easier next spring. You do need to keep the plant well-watered until November since roots will grow even after the leaves are gone.

If your annual flowers are looking pretty spent, buy some cahrysanthemums to replace them and enjoy until we get a hard frost!

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