Good night, plants

Fall means taking steps toward a bountiful spring

By Keith Loria, Special Writer
   Taking time to appreciate a well-tendered garden is something a lot of people during the spring and summer months, but as October looms, gardeners have their work cut out for them. Creating a beautiful flower display or garden is a year-round job, and there are steps that need to be taken as the cold months head our way.
   To help gardeners prepare, the Rutgers Master Gardeners of Mercer County will host “Putting the Garden to Bed,” from 1 to 3 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 5 at the Mercer Educational Gardens, 431 A Federal City Road, Pennington.
   ”Most gardeners don’t consider a number of easy tasks that they can do in fall to protect the garden throughout winter and to make spring gardening easier,” says Barbara Anuzis, a master gardener who will lead the program. “The Master Gardeners will be demonstrating useful skills and will be available for questions at the end.”
   The day will include members of the Master Gardeners’ Community Education committee demonstrating ways to clean out your garden beds, protect trees, shrubs and tender plants, eliminate sources of disease and insect infestation, and prepare tools for winter storage. The presentation will feature a number of master gardeners giving short presentations with topics such as “Saving Plants for Next Year,” “Identifying Winter Weeds,” “Protecting Plants from Deer,” “Preserving the Herb Harvest” and “Winterizing Tools.”
   ”While we are hibernating indoors, the garden is subject to the ill effects of winter nature,” Ms. Anuzis says, listing soil freezing and thawing, causing plants to heave out of the soil; winter weeds taking the opportunity of every warm day to grow and spread; insects finding harbor on stems and in piles of debris; deer, rabbits, voles and other mammals eating whatever plants they can find.
   Preparing your garden for the winter can enrich the soil and make your spring startup much easier. Some tips are to cut back dead stems and foliage, remove dead annuals, and rake up fallen leaves.
   ”Most of these items can be used to create or add to a compost pile, although those with fungus or insect eggs should be trashed,” Ms. Anuzis says. “The plant material in compost breaks down to create wonderful nutrient-rich soil to be used in your garden beds in the spring. Once the soil is exposed, remove winter weeds. Then apply a layer of compost, harvested from the previous year’s collection, to improve the quality of the soil through the freezing and thawing process.”
   Rutgers Master Gardener Patricia Frawley of Princeton will demonstrate how to collect seeds from a Baptisia australis plant, which as any gardener knows leads to free plants!
   ”Many annuals and perennials (although not hybrids) produce seed pods that can be gathered, dried, and put into use next year, either by starting seeds indoors (a cheerful activity in February and March) or by direct sowing into the garden,” Ms. Anuzis says. “The annual garden team at MEG will demonstrate seed collection as well as taking cuttings of tender plants.”
   The presentation will entail walking among the garden beds at MEG, so anyone uncomfortable standing might want to bring a folding chair. People should also bring something for taking notes and pictures, so they can make sure they get everything they can out of the presentation.
   A $3 donation is suggested and all funds will benefit Rutgers Master Gardeners of Mercer County educational programs.
   ”Master Gardeners of Mercer County is dedicated to assisting Mercer County residents with their concerns about home gardening,” Ms. Anuzis says. “We offer several educational programs throughout the year and staff a Helpline (609-989-6853) for residents to call with gardening questions. Residents can also bring walk-in questions.”
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