Autumn Senses – guest blogger Annette Presseau (Billerica Garden Club)

Autumn Senses



What a great time of year the air is crisp, the leaves are starting to fall and turn all sorts of colors and here in New England we see a quilt full of colors this time of year and we have a bonus of Indian summer to top it off!  I absolutely love apple pie or anything to do with apples this time of year because the apples are crisp, sweet and juicy my mouth is just watering thinking about them.  This is also a great time to start clearing up your garden weather it is a vegetable garden or a flower garden and get rid of anything that is past it time.  I love working in the yard this time of year too.


Gardening and Exercise.  Do you consider gardening as exercise?  I recently read an article that stated that this time of year there are a lot of injuries related to gardening like back pain and most gardeners spend hours weeding, digging, planting and clipping and they don’t think about stretching before working in the garden I know I never stretch before gardening.  Most gardeners don’t view a day in the yard as a workout but it is very much a workout.  A third to one half of all summer recreational injuries can be related to gardening and gardening can case repetitive-stress injuries from gardening without stopping.  When I garden I enjoy it so much that I forget to periodically take a break or change my position.  We need to approach gardening like a workout and stretch your muscles. Change position and activity, and after 15 minutes stand up stretch and switch what you are doing and exercise different parts of your body.  Also, the right equipment helps like using a bench or using long handles tools but use equipment that is comfortable.  If you start getting pains then limit your activity.  If gardening causes you too much discomfort then try container gardening and window boxes.  You might even try Yoga and read Gail Dubinsky’s “Yoga for Gardeners” book or “Gardener’s Yoga:Bend and Stretch, Dig and Grow” which outlines 21 yoga stretches that can help gardeners both prepare for and recover from a day playing in the dirt!

Leaves in the yard.  At one time I lived where it seemed that all the leaves in my neighborhood landed in my yard no sooner did I rake them all up the yard was full of leaves again now I use a mulcher mower and fortunately I don’t have a lot of leaves in my yard so my work is minimal! There are many gadgets out there that help with leaf cleanup besides a mulcher mower I use a bagger in the back of my lawn mower that picks up the excess and I can use it for compost next year so it works out very well. 


MosquitosMosquitoes need stagnant water to breed, and most mosquitoes stay around where they were born, so the easiest way to do this is after it rains, or after you use sprinklers and hoses, and thoroughly go around your property and empty any container containing water, but you do have to be thorough. Mosquitoes like water that sits for 4 or 5 days, but they can breed in as little as a tablespoon of water, as little as a bottle cap full, so you must be very thorough.  Places often forgotten about are the insides of old tires, all the various nooks and crevices in children’s toys, and gutters. If your gutters are not clean and water sits in them over time, that is prime mosquito territory. So clean your gutters.  Keep your pool and hot tub chlorinated and they will be fine. Your bird bath needs to have water changed regularly; you can also place agitators in your bird bath to keep the mosquitoes at bay. Your ponds or water features need to be well stocked with fish, and the fish will deal with the mosquitoes. If they aren’t, you need to add something that will kill them, such as mosquito dunks which are this bacteria that kills mosquito larvae in water, but doesn’t harm anything else, a good product. If you have a rain barrel make sure it is fitted with a secure mesh opening that prevents any bug entrance, and you can also use the mosquito dunks in it as well.

So remove the water you do not want, and maintain the water you do want, and you should be okay.

Pansies, Mums and Kale.  Now is the perfect time to plant Pansies, Mums and Kale which will bring great color to your yard and you can remove some of your summer flowers that are starting to look pretty bad.  Pansies can be planted in a pumpkin and all you do is scoop out the middle, make some holes in the bottom and take your plant add some soil and put in the pumpkin.  Pansies are the perfect autumn flower and they seem to just smile back at you and they also love this cool weather.  The more faded flowers you pick off the Pansies the more they will bloom.  Mums are really beautiful this time of year and flowering or ornamental Kale really gives a different color to the garden.


Moving plants indoors.  Stop fertilizing your plants and bring summer vacationing houseplants back indoors while the weather is still nice so that you don’t shock your plants. Check carefully for hitchhiking pests too.  Start fall clean-up in the flower beds, cutting back anything that has finished blooming or is diseased and remove any plants that have died.  Photograph your gardens and containers for a record of the year’s triumphs and frustrations and you can take some cuttings of your plants indoors so that you can have them next year or remove the seeds from your plants and grow them from seed next year.  Another great thing to do is to make some pressed flowers to save and maybe start a scrapbook album!  Make sure you divide and move perennials and dig and store tender bulbs like: dahlias, caladiums, cannas and tuberous begonias. Now is a good time to plant fall bulbs.  Irises and other early-blooming perennials still can be divided this month but make sure you give them plenty of water after replanting.  Take cuttings from geraniums, 2 to 4 inches, for indoor winter flowering.


Check out these pictures:


Christmas Cactus Care.  It’s scary to think that Christmas will be here in a few months and that we need to get our Christmas Cactus ready but this is a good time to do it.  If you want them to bloom on schedule, begin conditioning your Christmas Cactus to get ready for the upcoming holiday season. The key to getting Christmas cactus to flower during the holiday season is proper light exposure, correct temperatures and limited watering.


Because this plant is thermo-photoperiodic, it will set buds when day length is about equal to night length and when the temperature drops to 50 to 60 degrees F for several weeks.  Keep in a dark bathroom for the night. During the fall months, the Christmas Cactus should be placed in a spot where it receives indoor indirect, bright light during the daylight hours but total darkness at night (absolutely no artificial light). The Christmas Cactus requires long, uninterrupted dark periods, about 12 or more hours each night. Begin the dark treatments in about mid-October to have plants in full bloom by the holidays. Place the plants in a dark area from about 12 or more hours each night for 6-8 weeks or until you see buds forming. A closet or unused bathroom are ideal places.


From September and October, the Christmas Cactus should be kept in a cool room where temperatures will remain around 50 degrees, give or take a few degrees. Don’t expose the plant to freezing temperatures. Plants should be blooming for the holidays if cool treatments are started by early November.

Be especially careful with watering at this time. Reduce the watering slightly. Do not soak the soil after a dry period; only moisten the top few inches, since buds, flowers and even leaves can fall off if the roots are suddenly saturated.

Prune the Christmas cactus about a month after blooming. This will encourage the plant to branch out, especially after a period of “rest” has been granted. It will not look very pretty after the blossoms have faded. Some people wait until March or so, when new growth begins, to prune the cactus.

Perennials.  Mark your perennials with permanent tags or stakes, or create a map showing their locations so you’ll know where and what they are when they die back at the end of the season.
This will help you so that you don’t accidentally dig up something you intended to keep when you work in the garden this fall and next spring.


Birdfeeders and other things.  Now is a great time to clean off birdfeeders; clean out and put away birdbaths for the winter.  Plant garlic for harvest next summer and sow wildflower seed for bloom next spring.  At this time you can harvest herbs, grasses and flowers for drying.


Rusted Garden Tools.  I have to admit that my tools are rusty so now is a good time for me to clean them up and what needs to be done is to put on gloves then Scrub rusty tools with a steel-wool pad that has been dipped in white vinegar. If the rust is heavier, you can soak the tools in a bath of distilled white vinegar. The acid in the vinegar helps to lift the rust and the steel wool works into the finer cracks and crevices. Rusty garden tools can be cleaned easily this way without harsh, expensive chemicals.

Fill a 5-gallon bucket 1/2 way full with sand and mix in some used motor oil. If you do not have used motor oil you can use some inexpensive baby oil for this job. Mix the oil and sand well and store your tools with their metal heads sunk in this bucket. The sand will act as an abrasive deterring future rust and the oil keeps your newly cleaned tools conditioned. This is also an effective way to store garden tools through the winter time. Mechanic’s tools can be cleaned and conditioned the same way.

Treat tools with significant rust damage — or damage you don’t feel like scrubbing free of rust — with a rust-inhibiting spray paint designed to protect metal. A rust-converting primer may also be necessary.



Fall Festivals.  Right now is a great time to go to country fairs and festivals so check out your local listings and see what is in your area and Farmers Markets are still going strong so you can still get many vegetables and flowers and some state fairs are happening now.


I’ll leave you with a thought about a beautiful autumn sunset where the sky turns a bright orange and the clouds are flowing over the beautiful blue sky while the moon is showing it’s brightness in the distance.  The next time you are gardening stop and feel the gentle breeze on your face and watch the hummingbird fly past and stop and wonder at all the beautiful things that are in your garden and just sit there and smile at the peace and beauty of what surrounds you.


Annette Presseau      Billerica Garden Club

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