Home & Garden

Gardener's almanac

Cooling off — Tropical plants shouldn't consistently be out in temperatures under 50, but it's hard to bring them in when days are so warm. Keep an eye on the forecast and on the plants. And keep watering; the wind has been drying plants out.

Natural needle drop — I noticed that needles on some pine trees were turning yellow this week, and that is natural — as long as the needles are the older needles on the interior of the branches. The needles will turn brown and then drop, says Ward Upham of K-State. It's a natural occurrence that is more noticeable in some years than others, he says. Just be sure that the needles on the tips of the branches look fine and that there is no banding or spotting on the needles that are turning yellow. If you do see spots or bands, take a sample to the Extension Service, Upham says.

Prepare for fruit planting — I always love Upham's instructions for preparing for fruit planting in the fall. It can be applied to any other type of planting you may envision as well:

"Grass areas should be tilled so grass does not compete with the fruit plants for soil moisture and nutrients. Have the soil analyzed for plant nutrients. Your local K-State Research and Extension agents have information to guide you in taking the soil sample (in Sedgwick County, the phone number is 316-660-0100). From that sample, the agent can provide recommendations on what and how much fertilizer to add to correct nutrient deficiencies. Organic materials such as compost, grass clippings, leaves, hay, straw or dried manure, can be tilled into the soil to help improve its condition. Time and weather conditions generally are more suitable in the fall than in the late winter and spring for preparing soil. If fruit plants can be set by early April, they will have developed a stronger root system to support plant growth than they would if planted later."

Small sweet potatoes — Sweet potatoes should be harvested no later than the first fall freeze, but if you prefer smaller sweet potatoes, you can dig a hill anytime to see if they're the size you want, Upham says. Because the tubers can be nicked in the harvesting process, they should be cured to heal those wounds and improve flavor and texture, he says.

To cure, "place the roots in a warm, humid location for five to 10 days immediately after digging. A location with a temperature around 85 to 90 degrees is ideal. A space heater can be used to heat a small room or other area. Raise the humidity by placing moist towels in the room.

"Sweet potatoes should be stored above 55 degrees. Storage at temperatures below that injures the roots, shortens storage life and gives them an off flavor."

Family of Four Garden —The Swiss chard was treated last Saturday to get rid of caterpillars, so the harvest of it was skipped this week in the Family of Four garden at the Extension Center. But a pound of peppers valued at $1.50 was picked. "We are about $21 from covering all seed costs (including leftover seeds) as well as the costs of building a raised bed, buying irrigation, row cover fabric, a light stand, pots and potting soil for seed starting, and fertilizers," extension agent Rebecca McMahon says. "We should at least break even on the garden this year, so in future years we will only need to count the cost of seeds, fertilizers and other miscellaneous expenses."

Plant — Fescue grass seed, by Oct. 15; tulip, daffodil, crocus and other spring-flowering bulbs, and garlic, through October; pansies, asters and mums.

African violet meeting — The African Violet Study Club will have a meeting at 1 p.m. Oct. 9 at Botanica. The meeting, which will include a talk about plants, is free and open to the public.

Autumn wildflower talk — Mike Haddock, author of "Wildflowers and Grasses of Kansas," will be at Botanica on Wednesday to talk about the Kansas plants that bloom in fall. The lecture is at 12:15 and is included in Botanica admission. Lunch from Truffles can be purchased for $6 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Kansas Pond Society auction — Members of the Kansas Pond Society are donating items for an auction to benefit Botanica tonight, and it's open to the public. The auction will be at 7 p.m. at The Learning Center, 150 Steward in Haysville. Items will include the water wall from last spring's garden show, Botanica memberships, and pond-, garden- and fish-related items, possibly even koi. Half of the proceeds will go to Botanica.

Plant a Row for the Hungry — If you have any fruit or vegetables or herbs that you'd like to donate to the needy, you can do so at these locations during business hours.

* Kansas Food Bank, 1919 E. Douglas

* Augusta Ace Hardware, 316 W. Seventh Ave. in Augusta

* Brady Nursery, 11200 W. Kellogg

* Hillside Nursery, 2200 S. Hillside

* Hillside Feed & Seed, 1805 S. Hillside

* Johnson's Garden Centers, 802 N. Ridge Road, 21st and Woodlawn, 2707 W. 13th St.

* Valley Feed & Seed, 1903 S. Meridian.

Greeting cards seminar — Botanica will offer a class Monday on how to make greeting cards with a botanical theme. The class will be from 7 to 9 p.m. and costs $18, or $15 for Botanica members. Instructor Mary Espinoza will use rubber stamps and materials with a botanical theme, and participants will learn how to make three to four greeting cards. Register by calling 316-264-0448.

Garden-to-vase class — Sherryl Fitzpatrick, one of Botanica's volunteer floral arrangers, will show how she decides what to pick from the gardens to create fall arrangements during a class from 8 to 10:30 a.m. Oct. 10 at Botanica. The fee is $12, $8 for Botanica members. Participants will be able to take limited materials home to experiment and create arrangements with. Register by calling 316-264-0448.

Composting seminar — Master gardener Kae Bowles will be at Botanica on Oct. 11 to teach about how to get started composting. The seminar will be from 2 to 3:30 p.m. and cost $8, or $6 for Botanica members. Register by calling 316-264-0448.

Daffodil class — Botanica will offer a class on varieties of daffodils and how to grow them from 1:30 to 3 p.m. Oct. 14. The class costs $8, or $6 for Botanica members. Register by calling 316-264-0448.