My pines have lost so many needles that I can scarcely see the grass in my lawn. What disease is causing this? Can I save the trees?
What you are seeing is what is called fall needle drop and is perfectly normal. Pines lose their oldest, inner needles every fall. Often about a third of the needles will fall. But if the newest growth is green, you have nothing to worry about. Stressed trees may show more drop than others. Keep your trees watered, about an inch a week, right up until frost, to keep them at their healthiest
Is there anything I should do to my garden tools before storing them away for the winter?
Garden tools will last longer and work better if you keep them clean and well-maintained. Ideally tools should be cleaned each time you use them, which will keep diseases from spreading in your garden. Because plant pathogens can survive on your tools and then spread in your garden, clean them with a 10 percent bleach solution or household disinfectant. Keep in mind that bleach can be corrosive to metal so you may want to keep a bottle of disinfectant (like Lysol) with your gardening tools and sanitize (especially pruning shears) each time you use them. Shovels, rakes, trowels and other tools can be washed with water and then dried well. Another method of cleaning shovels and pitch forks is to slide them up and down in a bucket of sand. To prevent rust or minimize it, lightly oil your tools made of steel. Before putting them away for the winter you may want to sharpen your trowels, shovels and hoes with a hand file and your pruning shears and garden knives with a honing stone. When spring arrives you will be glad your tools are in tiptop shape!
October garden tips
Order hyacinth and paperwhite narcissus bulbs now for winter indoor forcing.
Mow and rake up heavy falls of leaves. A light layer may be left on the lawn.
Bring in peppers and cucumbers before a freeze.
Harvest pumpkins before temperatures drop below 30 degrees.
Tip and mulch hybrid tea roses. Even shrub roses appreciate some mulch.
Label perennials with tongue depressors and permanent markers or commercial markers. You will be happy to know what is where in the spring when everything looks alike early on.
Many people have found that a late October lawn fertilization is the most valuable one of the year.
My grandmother used to keep geraniums over the winter and this year I would like to try it. How do you save geraniums for the next season?
One of our grandmother's way of saving geraniums was to take the plants out of the soil, knock most of the soil off their roots and then store them in the basement or root cellar by hanging them from the rafters. You could do something similar by putting them in paper bags and storing them in the coolest part of your basement. In early spring when you see green sprouts, pot them up and keep them in a sunny window or under florescent lights. Thoroughly water the soil with a very small amount of fertilizer when it feels dry. In late May set your plants outside for a few hours each day, increasing the time until there is no worry of frost and they can be safely planted outdoors. Another option is to take 4-6 inch cuttings, dip the end of the stem into rooting powder, and place them into fresh potting soil or vermiculite. Keep the cuttings in a bright window or under florescent lights, keeping them consistently moist. If you have sunny windows, the third option is to bring your plants indoors and keep them as houseplants. Before bringing plants inside you may want to spray the plants with water to knock off any insects or use a systemic insecticide so you don't bring unwanted pests into your home.
Every year it seems as if I still have lots of green tomatoes when frost hits. How can I use them or should I just throw them away?
There are two basic ways to use those green tomatoes. The first is to make recipes calling for green tomatoes. A quick Internet search yielded recipes for fresh salsa, salsa verde, green tomato relish, green tomato pizza, green tomato bars, green tomato mincemeat, fried green tomatoes, green tomato pie, green tomato chili, green tomato bread, green tomato omelet and green tomato soup. Cookbooks contain similar recipes. The second way is to store and ripen them indoors. To do so, select large, mature (glossy, whitish-green color), undamaged and undiseased green tomatoes. Remove the stems and wash, if dirty, and air dry. Store 1-2 layers deep in boxes out of direct sunlight, or in the dark. If stored at 55 degrees, they should ripen in 3-4 weeks. As you can see, some trial and error is involved. The flavor will not be as good as vine-ripened but will probably be better than store bought. Green peppers may be ripened in the same way.
We found a spider in our home, looked it up on the Internet, and think it was a brown recluse. Aren't they dangerous and if we had one are there more?
According to Jeff Hahn, an entomologist at the University of Minnesota, there are essentially no dangerous spiders native to Minnesota. The northern widow is found in the southeast corner of the state but is rarely encountered by people. You may have found an orb weaving spider, which can easily be mistaken for a dangerous spider. Most spiders have eight eyes, but a brown recluse has six eyes arranged in three pairs of two. Even when you think spiders match pictures on the Internet, a person's interpretation based on color and markings is not always accurate; therefore, if there is any doubt about whether a spider is dangerous, it may be wise to send the specimen to an entomologist for identification.
Crow Wing County Master Gardeners are trained and certified volunteers for the University of Minnesota Extension Service. All information given in this column is based on research and information provided by the university. To ask a question, call the Master Gardener Help Line at 824-1000, ext. 4040. and leave a recorded message. A master gardener will return your call.
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