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Fall vegetable gardening tips

Friday - 8/26/2011, 11:56am  ET

How to recover from a hurricane

Mike McGrath, Garden Plot

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It's time for the second season of good eatin!

Marianne in Anne Arundel writes: "I want to do some fall vegetable gardening (which I've never had much luck with in the past). Do you think it's a good idea to chill seeds like peas and lettuce prior to planting in a fall garden? And when is a good time to start planting lettuce seeds and peas for the fall?"

Well, a big no to "The Big Chill," Mar. That technique is only necessary when you're trying to start the seeds of highly specialized plants, typically perennials that need a period of dormancy before they'll sprout.

I suggest you also forget about those fall peas. I tried to get that timing down for many years before I realized that peas were pretty much determined to be a springtime-only crop. Plant the seeds in the summer and the baby plants burn up. Wait until the temps are cool enough and there aren't enough days left to get a harvest.

But salad greens are another story. I just started sowing my first fall runs of lettuce and spinach in the coolest parts of my garden, and will continue with fresh sowings (moving into progressively sunnier areas) about every other week through the end of September. That should guarantee great salad greens through the holidays and the last run may even survive over winter to feed you again in the Spring!

Don't use stinky mulch!

Frank near Leesburg writes: "I went to a place in Hamilton to get some mulch per your recommendations. They carry both "leaf grow" and "leaf mulch," which has me confused. What's the difference; and which should I use as a mulch for my flower beds? I brought home some of the "leaf mulch" and it seems to work well, except for a strong smell, which I'm hoping will back off a bit in the next few days."

Well, you should have trusted your nose, Frank. Never buy compost, mulch or any other kind of landscape amendment that has an unpleasantly strong smell. And it's hard to guess just what that stuff even is. "Leaf mulch" is a generic term, so that pile could contain anything.

But "Leafgro" (one word, no 'w', registered trademark) is a branded compost made from local leaves that makes a fabulous landscape mulch. You'll find lots more info on it here

The smaller the area, the more sod makes sense

John in Frederick writes: "I have a very small lawn outside my town house about 6 inches by 15 inches. Half is in shade most of the day, and half is in direct sun most of the day. I heard your recent suggestions and want to plant a new lawn from scratch. Can you suggest the best grass variety for each condition?"

Look for a high-quality name brand sun and shade blend, John. These premium mixtures arc designed to contain different varieties of grass that have similar blade shapes and color, so that the grasses that thrive in the sunny areas will look the same as the ones that persist in shade, even though they're very different otherwise.

But with a lawn that small, you might want to spend a bit more and put down sod instead of seed. Sod costs more than seed, but it establishes pretty much immediately and gives you the best shot at a weed-free turf. Specifically, I suggest a turf-type tall fescue sod. These specialized fescues do well in sun and shade, and are bred to be slower growing than other grasses.

Bees vs. Hummingbirds

Elizabeth in Dumfries writes: "What can I do to get rid of very large bees that are persistently visiting my hummingbird feeders and keeping the birds away? (I would remove the feeders, but I'm afraid the birds would leave too.) The bees showed up about a week ago, and are becoming more aggressive about protecting their food source."

Bees and ants are persistent pests of hummingbird feeders, Liz. They like sweet liquid just as much as them hummers. You can try moving the feeders around to different spots on your property, or add several more feeders so that everybody has a seat at a table. But the best answer is to buy specialized feeders that have ant exclusion devices and "bee-proof" nectar tubes that are designed so that only hummingbirds can get into them.

Don't blame bugs for blossom end rot!

Jim in Orange writes: "Got the stink bugs under control. Now a bug with a body shape similar to that of a wasp has invaded my tomatoes. It doesn't fly or bite humans. In fact, I haven't really noticed them boring into the tomatoes, but I have seen them crawling around, and the tomatoes are now rotting out from the bottom."

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