Dear Master Gardener: What should I mulch this fall and what kinds of mulch should I use?
Mulch is a covering, usually of organic material, placed around plants to prevent evaporation and modify soil temperature. Trees, shrubs, bulbs and perennials of all sorts benefit from fall mulching. Many types of mulch such as pine needles, dry leaves (chopped or shredded are better than whole), compost and grass clippings are free. Other products such as marsh hay, straw and peat moss may have to be purchased.
Failure to mulch may result in serious winter injury. It retains soil heat, which protects root systems. Snow is an excellent mulch but we can't predict snow cover, so other mulches should be provided. A depth of 2 to 3 inches is the rule of thumb. After applying the mulch, gently pull it slightly away from the stems or trunks of plants so that mice and voles don't make homes there and girdle them. Tree guards provide additional rodent protection. Mulch fall-planted trees and plants as soon as they are planted to keep the soil moist and warm longer to help roots get established. Mulch established trees and plants when the soil is slightly frozen.
Dear Master Gardener: I am a frugal person and was wondering if I can bring my geraniums in for the winter and replant them next spring?
Yes, there are several options for keeping geraniums over the winter. The old-fashioned method is to dig up the plants, shake off the excess soil from the roots and hang them upside-down in the basement.
Another method is to take cuttings and propagate new plants. It is very important to make sure the plant you are propagating does not have an active patent because it is a violation of patent laws to propagate a patented plant without a license agreement from the patent holder.
In early fall, take a cutting from the geranium, you would like to keep it about 3-4 inches long, taking it from the healthiest stems. Remove the leaves from the bottom 2 inches and put the cutting into potting soil, perlite, vermiculite or coarse sand. To root it faster, dip the root in a rooting hormone powder before placing it in the potting medium. Keep it moist until it roots. After the cuttings have rooted, put them in a sunny window and keep them consistently watered.
The third option is to bring your geranium in and either repot it or keep it in the pot you had it in outside. Spray the leaves well with water to remove any insects. Cut it back by about 1/3 and place it in a sunny window and enjoy it as a houseplant.
Dear Master Gardener: I am noticing little flies in my home around the fruit bowl in my kitchen. I am assuming they are fruit flies. Should I spray an insect spray on them to get rid of them?
This is a common time of year to see fruit flies in the home and they are extremely bothersome. If the insects you are seeing are approximately 1/8" in length, have a tan-colored body with a dark-colored abdomen and red eyes, then they are fruit flies. According to Jeffrey Hahn, an entomologist at the University of Minnesota, "fruit flies are not normally associated with disease but do have the potential to vector disease organisms if they have visited excrement or uncooked meat."
Fruit flies can enter your home on fresh fruit and vegetables or can fly in from outdoors. They are attracted to overripe fruit and vegetables or fermenting organic matter found in unrinsed bottles and cans in recycling bins or in garbage containers. Spraying fruit flies will not solve the problem as more will replace those you have sprayed. The most effective control is to eliminate their food source. Don't let produce sit out on your counter and get overripe. You could keep ripe produce in the refrigerator. Rinse out pop and beer cans and wine bottles before placing them in your recycling container, remove garbage regularly, and keep garbage containers cleaned and sanitized.
Dear Master Gardener: This was my first year of growing dahlias. What do I do with the bulbs now?
Soon after the first frost, carefully dig up the tuberous roots, being careful to avoid damage. Wash them carefully with a hose to remove all dirt. Let them cure in a spot with high humidity for about three days. Then place them in plastic bags with small perforations in a slightly moist medium such as peat moss. Label containers clearly and store at 35-45 degrees F. The cement floor in the corner of a basement may work well.
Check during the winter to make sure that the fleshy roots do not dry out. Plants such as caladiums, tuberous begonias and cannas may be stored in a similar manner though these plants can tolerate higher storage temperatures, up to 50 degrees. Winter desiccation is the biggest enemy in the storage of these tender perennials.
Dear Master Gardener: What has happened to tomatoes this year? My friends are complaining about how few fruits they got and how small they are.
Most local experts are blaming the weather. Tomatoes are warm-season crops and we had a late, cold spring that set back early plantings. That was followed by a long dry spell, and tomatoes like frequent, consistent moisture. Still, a few locals are bragging about their "best tomato crop ever." Go figure.
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 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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