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THE LAZY BERKSHIRE GARDENER: Week of October 12, 2023

THE LAZY BERKSHIRE GARDENER: Week of October 12, 2023


Agave huachucensis plants are native to the Arizona climate’s bright sun and rocky, quick draining soil. They can handle -5 degrees too!

I took a week off and headed to Arizona for some last-of-the-season heat. The soil that I saw wasn’t. Plants were rooted in mostly sand and rock, but flowers, trees, and shrubs have a way of thriving there. I enjoyed guessing what plants I saw and considering what little care and what harsh conditions they experienced. Bees and butterflies were still abundant!

As I was hiking around Arizona, I saw what looked like Potentilla fruticosa growing in extremely arid conditions. I looked it up, and I was wrong. This plant was known as Apache Plume, or what the Navajo called “feather-tipped plant.” The flowers have five petals, and the shrub looks similar in shape to Potentilla, but the botanical name is Fallugia paradoxa. The seed-head resembles clematis seed-heads. Though it is not native to our region, I was intrigued by this southwestern native shrub and its many uses. The stems grow straight as arrow shafts and were often used for that. Stems were often used for cradleboards or weaving tools, as well. It is not Potentilla, and it probably would get powdery mildew here. Wrong plant for our place!

Apache Plume (Fallugia paradoxa) is an interesting plant that looks like Potentilla fruticosa. On left is a shrub near Sedona. Signage at right in the national parks set the ignorant Lazy Berkshire Gardener straight.

They did have a frost in Flagstaff while we were there. The volunteer community gardeners had diligently wrapped the pretty hanging baskets on lampposts and containers in parks. It looked like Halloween had come early! The next day, all were unwrapped and looking lovely. It can be done! Hard to believe, but it doesn’t look like frost will happen around here until late October. However, watch and listen to the forecast! We should be ready with our “ghost” costumes for our plants. Reminder that summer bulbs other than dahlia should be pulled out soon—before frost—and allowed to dry. I will go into storage of dahlia and other summer bulbs after we have a killing frost.

After being gone, I was relieved that I had planted perennials, shrubs, and trees at home that can handle some heavy rains and wide swings in temperatures. The landscape seemed fine upon our return. Only a couple houseplants showed signs of drought. Pretty good for 10 days away! I watered the houseplants deeply before leaving, and I also pulled them back from the windows. We kept the house in the 50s, as well. A cool temperature slows down houseplant growth and they literally “chill” out while you’re away.

It may or may not be too late, but trim Brussels sprouts to encourage fattening sprouts. Cutting off the growing center stem will send energy to the little buds on the sides. You want those to grow now or you will have nothing to eat!

Not agave—Brussels sprouts! Cut the growing tip of Brussels sprouts stems to encourage side growth.

Gardener is away—the pests will play. Before I left, my sprouts looked fine—no sign of cabbage moth larvae. But, uh-oh. Upon our return, we had an infestation! Luckily, I found the well-camouflaged caterpillars (small, medium, and LARGE) at the top of the stem, what I needed to cut off anyway. Lesson: I should have sprayed more BT NOW product for controlling caterpillars before leaving!

My other veggies are done or struggling. It is time to pull out cucumbers, zucchini, and cut down the bean plants, especially if leaves are not green and growing or if no flowers appear.

I found LONG and FAT purple bush beans when I returned. These will be sorted into piles of edible and “save for seed.” The swollen but not lumpy pods will be fine in a quick stir-fry or steamed for dinner. I will let the lumpy bean pods dry then pop out the beans to finish drying and save for seeding next year.

Save monster, lumpy beans like this one for seed next year. Allow the pods to dry in a dark, airy place. Pop out the seeds in a few weeks and store in old envelopes—also in a dry, airy place.

Pick any green tomatoes now and allow to ripen in a brown paper bag with a banana or apple. The fruit emits ethylene gas while it ripens and helps the tomatoes ripen, too. Pull out those tomato stakes or cages, brush clean, and store in a spot out of the weather for next year. In spring before putting back into use, give them a wipe with 10 percent bleach solution or ammonia to clean off any overwintering bacteria.

Part of my adventures away included a visit to restored ruins from early mission settlements in Texas. The San Jose Mission in San Antonio has a simple “green roof” over one entry. The prickly-pear cacti absorb the sunlight and any water left standing on the roof. I bet that the thicker shade provided by the cacti keeps it cooler than under other wooden roofs in the complex. Another kind of succulent—like sedum mixes—might be a good addition on a garden shed. Hmm. I am always open to new ideas.

A green roof of prickly pear cacti wouldn’t be practical here, but Zone 4 hardy perennial sedums might do the trick.

Back home, leaves are falling. If you have a light coating (like from my birch that drops leaves slowly over a few weeks), mow with a mulching mower and chop those leaves into a fine carbon-rich organic layer. These bits filter into the soil and enrich it for a healthier lawn. Don’t wait to mulch these leaves. If you only plan to rake or “blow,” don’t wait for the leaves to create thick mats around trees smothering your lawn. Remove the leaves regularly through the next six weeks. I encourage you to put leaves in a chicken-wire corral, compost bin, or an out-of-the-way pile for use as “brown” in your winter compost with “green” vegetable scraps. A daily addition and quick stir will yield beautiful soil for your garden’s health next year. Maybe I am not that lazy, just cheap.

I call myself the Lazy Berkshire Gardener because I don’t want to work too hard in my gardens. I want to enjoy them. I find it easier to observe my landscape and let the compost happen, the water pool up, or daisies to self-sow. I look for ways to do the minimum task for the biggest impact. For example, mulching is better than spraying and much better than weeding all season. I look for beautiful, low-maintenance plants that thrive in or at least tolerate my garden conditions. Plus, I’m willing to live with the consequences if I miss something.

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