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Summer's last hurrah 

by Pat Munts


It's cleanup time for your garden. By cleaning up, you get ready for the harvest season and the last burst of color and fruit of fall. So here are some thoughts to get you ready for the autumn.





Veggie Ripening


August should have been the golden month for Inland Northwest gardeners. We planted, weeded, chased bugs and watered to get our shivering, dry gardens to the point that they are coming to their peak production. On each walk through the garden, we found ripe beans, cucumbers, zucchini and summer squash. Now, tomatoes, peppers and corn are beginning to come into their own. The pumpkins are large green balls that will slowly turn orange as September progresses. However, this has not been the best garden season for the region.


Cold weather in June and July set many plants back several weeks. Finally, when we did get some heat, many garden plants went into shock. Lack of rainfall has meant that gardeners needed to be extra-vigilant about getting water on the garden. According to the WSU Master Gardeners, everything is about 10 days to two weeks late this year. Those extra 10 to 14 days needed to get things ripe will take us right up to our normal first frost date of September 15. The race is on!


There are a few things you can do in the garden to squeeze all the heat out of summer and early fall. Jay Bischoff, a 25-year veteran of vegetable gardening in the Spokane Valley, says the best thing a gardener can do at this late date is to cover your tomatoes and peppers with something to keep the heat in and cut back on watering. The best thing to use is Remay, a spun-polyester fabric for growing. This fabric is light enough to lay directly over plants but porous enough to let in water and sunlight. The temperature under the fabric can remain as much as 10 degrees warmer than the outside air. This will give tomatoes and peppers the necessary boost in heat to ripen and protect them from early, light frosts.


Bischoff also recommends cutting back on watering tomatoes and peppers. "It scares them into thinking they are going to die, so they try to produce seed as fast as they can." As a result, we get a ripe tomato with seeds inside. Cutting back on the water also keeps tomatoes from splitting.





The bugs are out


Levi Strauss, head of the Master Gardeners' Plant Clinic, says the dry weather and our recent hot temperatures are bringing out a number of bugs. Spider mites, house spiders and rose thrips are out in full force this year, sending lots of people to the Plant Clinic to find out what to do about them. "We are seeing a lot of bug problems, especially spider mite damage on plants because of the dry weather," he says, adding that the warm temperatures are only increasing the problem.


Spider mites are found on a variety of plants, particularly spruces. They are very tiny and difficult to see. Your best bet for finding them is to look for a mass of fine webbing on and between the leaves or needles. The mites can vary in color from orange, dark green or black with orange legs. The easiest way to control spider mites on garden shrubs and small trees is to spray the plant with a strong stream of water. This washes away the mites' webs and knocks them off the plant. There are also predatory mites living on the plants that will attack the spiders. Chemicals can be used and may need to be for severe infestations, but they will also kill the predatory mites.


As we get closer to the fall, large house spiders are beginning to appear. Also called funnel-web or hobo spiders, they are looking for places to over-winter their eggs, and our nice, cozy and perhaps a bit damp garages, woodpiles, basements and sheds are perfect. These are large, very fast spiders; an adult can grow from one to two inches in diameter including the legs. They are sometimes referred to as the aggressive house spider because they will bite if threatened. Their bite can cause a painful reaction and can take a long time to heal. The best control is to remove their potential hiding places by sealing openings big enough for them to crawl through, moving wood and debris away from the house and keeping sheds, basements and garages free of clutter. If spiders do make an appearance in the house, take the vacuum cleaner to all the little nooks and crannies where a spider might set up shop. Throw the bag away as soon as you finish.


If you are growing roses, chances are that rose thrips may have moved in. The rose thrip is a tiny yellowish-to-dark-colored insect that feeds on the flower and leaf buds. Damaged leaves may be distorted, while infected flowers will be distorted when they open and have brown spots on the petals. Heavily infested buds may fail to open. Thrip damage is fortunately more an aesthetic issue than anything else, unless the infestation is severe. Again, a non-chemical approach is often the best course of action. Sprinkling diatomaceous earth around the plants and on the buds will slow the infestation. Diatomaceous earth is made up of microscopic fossil shells that are sharp and irritate the thrips. There are also several predatory insects that go after the thrips. Using chemicals would kill both good and bad bugs.





Fall Garden Events


Fall may seem like a strange time to be taking gardening classes and attending plant sales, but it is actually an ideal time. In the spring, you are often so up to your ears in yard work that there is no time for classes. If you take your classes in the fall, you can incorporate your newfound knowledge into your spring gardening plans from the start. Early fall is often the best time to plant many trees, perennials and bulbs.


The Spokane area abounds with fall gardening opportunities. The Community Colleges of Spokane are offering several classes this fall through the Institute for Extended Learning. Classes range from planning landscapes and sprinkler systems to caring for trees, shrubs and perennials, and from identifying fall mushrooms to touring herb, berry and vegetable farms. If you did not get your catalog in the mail, they are available at public libraries in the region or by calling the Institute for Extended Learning at 533-3770.


The Master Gardeners are offering two workshops this fall to expand gardeners' knowledge. On Saturday, September 21, there will be the Successful Plant Propagation workshop that will teach you how to create more plants from your existing plants. This will save money, let you get an early start on spring and help you move some of your existing plants around the garden. The workshop will run from 10 am to 3:30 pm and costs $25.


On Saturday, October 6, the Master Gardeners will present a workshop on "Naturalizing Your Landscape." This workshop will give you an understanding of how to take advantage of the natural environment and plants around us and how to incorporate it into our landscapes. The workshop will run from 10 am to 1 pm at a cost of $25. Call 477-2048 for registration information.


On Saturday, September 8, the Friends of Manito will be holding their annual fall perennial sale in the area just east of the Glazer Conservatory in Manito Park. This is the premier fall sale in the region and should not be missed. Nearly 20,000 perennials, ornamental grasses and houseplants will be available, including a selection of collector varieties of hard-to-get plants. Proceeds from the sale are used to support a wide range of activities within the park. The sale runs from 10 am-4 pm, but get there early!

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