The heat is hopefully behind us, as we enjoy some cooler days. This may inspire many to get outside and catch up on garden tasks. Whether it's general maintenance; pruning dead branches from the 50 to 60 days of no rainfall; or raking the fallen leaves for a compost pile, there is plenty to be done.
Maybe its pulling down those vines that have now grown up the side of the fence or changing out containers or beds of fading flowers with new winter annuals. Whatever is on the gardening to-do list, here are a few helpful tips.
When pruning, remember to choose the point at which new growth will come from next spring. For a more natural landscape, reach down in the canopy of the shrub to a branch junction before making a cut. This also will create less work throughout the seasons. For a more formal look, sheer the shrub often and make sure the top of the shrub stays narrower than the base. If the top becomes more like a mushroom it will shade out the growth near the ground and cause those branches to stop growing, which would create a leggy appearance.
Contact a professional to remove large trees that are dropping major limbs. It may be important to take them down before they crash onto a house or car.
A gardener’s best friend is mulch. Raking leaves to start a new compost pile will amend the soil. Leaves also could be raked into garden beds to slowly decompose, which adds organic matter. Mulch will help insulate the roots this winter; break down to add nutrients; and most of all, suppress weeds to avoid additional spraying or pulling.
If adding new mulch, I like to let all the leaves drop from the trees first, so that the fresh layer of pine straw or pine bark doesn’t get covered up. Fall is the best time to plant new trees and shrubs, and that new mulch will help keep the moisture consistent as they get established. Remember to always plant a tree or shrub the same depth in the ground as it was in the container.
Make sure to prep the soil in garden beds with fresh compost and slow-release fertilizer when adding new plants. Annuals are heavy feeders, and the new transplants will need some additional nutrients added for them to really thrive. When mulching annual bedding plants, always put the mulch down first before planting the pansies, snapdragons or ornamental cabbages. Pulling back the mulch and putting in the transplant is much easier than planting the bed and trying to come back and place the pine straw around each individual transplant without damaging it.
As for pesky vines now climbing in the bushes and up the trees and fence, make sure to know what they are before pulling on them. It’s always a good idea to wear long sleeves and gloves when working in the yard but especially when working with poisonous vines.
A good saying to remember is, “leaves of three, leave them be.” Also look for the hairy structures coming out of the vines that help them cling to the tree or wall. Even in the winter when the vines look brown and dead, they still contain oils that will cause allergic reactions. These plants can cause a great deal of discomfort, itching and pain if they come in contact with skin. Never burn these vines either, as the oils can get in the air and be inhaled.
All of these irritating plants range in appearance. Leaf shapes will vary – even on the same plant. They also vary from rough, woody vines to erect woody shrubs or trailing shrubs that run on the ground. Never base identification on one or two leaves. Look at the overall plant and compare sizes and shapes of multiple leaves to determine a plant’s identity. If ever in doubt, leave it alone.
May and June are the best times to apply control measures to these poisonous plants, but it can be done any time of the year. To kill poison ivy on trees, cut the vine right above the ground; and then, treat any leaves coming from the vine on the ground with glyphosate. More than one application may be necessary, but eventually, this herbicide will kill the roots and prevent sprouting. Always follow directions on the label when using any herbicide.
For information and tips on gardening, join the Elmore County Master Gardeners at its monthly lunch and learn sessions on the second Tuesday of each month from noon to 1 p.m. at the Fellowship Hall at the Presbyterian Church in Wetumpka. See page 44 for more information.
Mallory Kelley is a Regional Extension Agent for Alabama Extension and covers central Alabama for home grounds, gardens and pests.