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The days are getting shorter, but we're still busy in the garden!

small, orange bell-shaped flowers grow on a vine in a flower garden
The garden is still in full swing as we head into late summer. (Photo: Damon Britton)

I am a shoulder season person and the shorter days and cooler night temperatures are reinvigorating me, the gardener, but also initiating regrowth in the garden. Flowers are blooming in the borders and in my raised vegetable beds the tomatoes won’t stop producing, to the point I think my neighbors are hiding when they spy me walking around with my basket full of ripe fruit to give away! Late summer is also the time to replant the cole crops of broccoli, cabbage, collards, kale and cauliflower. Sowing seeds of dill, lettuce, salad greens, carrots, and beets will insure another bountiful harvest through the late fall and early winter. I am enjoying the fresh bush beans from the seeds sown in July, there are plenty so I am freezing some to use in savory dishes this winter.

Recently, I gave up on the zucchini and pulled the plants out of the garden. Compromised by squash borers and infested with squash bugs I immediately bagged the plants, sealed them closed, and disposed of the bags off site. Squash bugs will continue to live in the remaining debris so I then raked up all of the remaining leaf debris, and the straw I had laid as a mulch, and immediately disposed of it off site after wrapping it up tight in a tarp. Soil drenching with a mixture of an organic pure liquid soap and water, at the rate of 4 Tbsp per gallon of water, brought to the surface the remaining adult squash bugs and nymphs. Quickly, I sprayed them with an insecticidal soap that killed them on contact.

The meadow I started 2 years ago is showing its late summer colors, it is much prettier and far more active with pollinators and birds than the lawn it replaces. I am sowing a Dry Shade Native Plant Seed mix for the Virginia Piedmont purchased from a professional native seed company in Pennsylvania. Many seeds require a cold stratification over the winter months, sowing the seeds in the fall will give them that exposure. Most seeds need a cold period to germinate properly, while others need to be scarified/nicked or even passed through the gut of a mammal or bird before germination can commence. For even distribution, I mix the seed with sand and broadcast the seed/sand mixture over the area before a rain. I know this project has a long timeline, but in the end the meadow should reseed itself once the native perennials and annuals that suit the site conditions have become established.

As with other perennials in the garden, fall is the time to move a handful of native perennials I planted in a border this past spring into this meadow. I am doing so because the deer continually nibble off the new growth during their nightly patrols through the area. I am hoping the dense growth of the meadow will provide the cover needed for these random native forbs to become established therein. I like to support Master Gardener plant sales and these plants were purchased at such a sale last spring. At Virginia Home Grown, we are eager to learn of the dates and locations of upcoming fall plant sales to help promote them on social media.

During a recent walk, I spied a mass of webbing in the branches of a Black Walnut tree. Fall webworms, Hyphantria cunea, are fuzzy, pale, yellow caterpillars that feed on 88 different types of deciduous trees. The adult moths these caterpillars morph into has cream-colored wings with a few dark spots on them. The larvae (caterpillars) continually spin webs in branches as they feed on the leaves of a tree within the spun nest. With leaf drop a few weeks away, these late summer feeders rarely damage a tree. Fall webworms are important to the ecosystem; they are a food source for birds and for beneficial insects that help reduce other not-so-beneficial insect populations. I enjoy watching the nests expand as I think about the late season meals these caterpillars may become — it’s the circle of life.

With autumn approaching, I am reassessing the garden and the landscape for successes, failures, and plants that have outgrown the space they are in. I will review the photos I took over the past 6 months to determine where specific seasonal color, texture, or height needs to be added or shifted elsewhere. I will be replacing the apple trees planted 3 years ago with stone fruit-bearing trees such as the Asian Persimmon. I am heartbroken to remove the trees I demonstrated apple pruning on, but need to take this drastic step because of the cedar apple rust pressure from the nearby Eastern red cedar trees, Juniperus virginiana. Eastern red cedars are the alternate host for the rust pathogen. I prefer to grow plants that will succeed in my garden without having to follow a regular spray maintenance program such as one for controlling Cedar Apple Rust. I will also be testing more native and non-native plants for deer resistance, and noting the successes and failures. With a plan in place, I know what needs to be done in the coming months.

I hope you enjoy the season and the fruits of your labor by sharing the bounty of the garden with friends and family.

Happy Gardening!
- Peggy Singlemann

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