by Ken Lain, The mountain gardener
Traditionally, by the end of September we slip out of the monsoonal pattern and back to our normal, “spotty” rain cycles. However, this year’s overabundant rains have made the next four weeks critical for gardeners. This is the season plants are most ‘talkative’, and gardeners should get to know their “language”.
Although October through November is our normal period for plants to show their exuberant colors, some plants declare themselves earlier. In doing so, they are “speaking” to alert us that they are struggling. In that respect they are somewhat like the gardeners who care for them. When we humans feel ill, we put ourselves to bed until we feel better, then indulge ourselves with appropriate sustenance until our aches and pains subside. Showing early fall colors means that sick plants are putting themselves “to bed”, much earlier than their other, healthy, partners in the yard.
When a plant shows its fall colors weeks before any other plant in the neighborhood, it is screaming for help from its caregiver. Plants in the yard can lose root mass because of very wet conditions. Although grubs and pocket gophers can be the culprits that induce root loss and plant stress, root loss usually is caused from having been planted in very heavy, rocky soils that can’t breath properly during monsoon rains. Plants that show abnormally early autumn colors most likely are the victims of these stresses. Seasoned gardeners know that the cure is administered in two easy steps.
Step one is “Soil Activator”, which encourages a plant to generate deeper roots as it repairs damage. This is the equivalent to chicken soup for you and me. This ‘chocolate for the soil’ fertilizer will regenerate dead soil around sick plants so they will want to send out new root hairs, those precursors to healthy roots. Even plants that are not sick will enjoy this soil nutrient by showing off deeper, more vibrant autumn colors towards the end of the year.
Step two is just as simple: in one month follow up the soil activator with a natural plant food. Please stay away from synthetic foods for sick plants. They are much too strong for struggling plants and are dangerous to birds and pets. I developed a fertilizer called “All Purpose Plant Food” 7-4-4 that really helps both newly-planted and sickly plants. (Note: Put plants to bed for the winter with this all natural food and you will have set the stage for some energetic spring growth next year. )
Grubs and pocket gophers are more difficult to handle than soil that is too wet. Gophers are easy to spot by their exit tunnels of mounded dirt. These underground rats live to eat the roots off of our plants! For a personalized gopher solution contact me or revisit the gopher garden column: “Keep Gophers from Devastating Landscapes”
Grubs are white ‘C’-shaped insects that can attack and kill plants, trees, and shrubs by the dozens. Because they eat new root hairs as they grow from a plant, grubs literally starve their hosts to death. Fortunately, the solution to eradication is very easy. Kill grubs by applying “Grub Killer” during the next monsoon rain. As the grub killer moves through the soil it eliminates grub activity and keeps this misery-inducing creature away for the rest of the year. In one month follow up with the “All Purpose Plant Food” to set the stage for healthy, vibrant spring growth.
If you are not sure why a plant is stressed enough to be showing its autumn colors early, apply both Soil Activator and “All Purpose Plant Food”. These two products will ensure that better plant health will develop for the next spring season
Until next week, I’ll see you here at Watters Garden Center.