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It’s time to redirect energy in the garden

The Garden Coach

If you didn’t get around to pruning to shape that overgrown Japanese maple or clean out the congested clump of powdery-mildew plagued lilacs, you’re off the hook for now. Plants are redirecting their energy to get ready for winter and so should we.

Pruning stimulates the growth of new branches and leaves, which is good in spring and early summer, but not now. Tender new growth wouldn’t have time to harden off before temperatures drop. There is a lot going on underground, with roots still growing, but above ground, woody plants are going through chemical changes that cause them to drop their leaves and go dormant for winter.

With so much recent storm damage, of course there will be broken branches that need to be removed. But after basic cleanup, it’s time to put away the pruning saw and loppers until midwinter and turn to weeding.

While we’ve been taking a break from spring’s gardening frenzy, weeds have been completing their life cycles by setting seeds. When I hear gobbling out back I know it’s crabgrass time. Wild turkeys love crabgrass seed.

While I try to attract wildlife, all those big feet scratching around in my garden do a lot of damage, so I chase them away and start pulling weeds. Check out all those fuzzy seedheads, the sprays of crabgrass sneaking through the garden, the pink clusters of smartweed and the many low-profile green seeds of plants that slip under our radar. It’s time to pay attention to weeds and other plants that self-sow too enthusiastically. Eliminating seeds now will save much work next year.

If seeds are very ripe or spring-loaded, seed will spill with the slightest handling. Plants like garlic mustard and dock, a big-leafed perennial with a deep tap root whose spikes of rust-colored seeds seem to be everywhere lately, are best snipped right over a big container.

Digging tap-rooted plants out one by one is a chore, but at least you can prevent further seeding with one snip. Many weeds are annuals. Since they’re going to die anyway, if possible cut them rather than pulling. Pulling disturbs the soil, which promotes germination of seeds already in the soil.

Keeping ground covered by plants or mulch goes a long way toward keeping weeds down. Cutting invasive barberry and burning bush euonymous now prevents birds from ingesting and spreading seeds. But don’t just send them through a chipper or even think about composting; that’s just planting them somewhere else.

If you have too much material to put in household garbage, choose one spot to pile up problem plants and keep an eye on it — maybe cover it with an old rug or tarp so plants will rot rather than germinate.

Then there are the seeds of plants we want to spread. Beautiful native woodland asters and goldenrods are beginning to bloom. They can be encouraged to spread by strewing their seed around once it is ripe, so see where they are now and collect a bit of seed later.

Cardinal flower and its cousin, great blue lobelia, is blooming in my wet garden now and big white puffs of white snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum) are in the woodland garden. After they set seed and start to fall apart I cut flower stems and bash them around where I’d like more plants. Other welcome self-seeders, like brown-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba), stand up to winter and feed the birds, always dropping enough seeds to ensure their presence in the garden year after year.

Karen Bussolini is an eco-friendly garden coach, a NOFA Accredited Organic Land Care Professional. She can be reached at www.kbgarden@charter.net or 860-927-4122.