The rainstorms are now fewer and cooler weather is here. Yard chores might seem a bit less daunting with the arrival of lower temperatures. Evenings and early mornings are a perfect time to tackle some of the more physical work that needs to get done.
A few minutes in the yard before work is a great way to start the day and it's amazing what can get accomplished in just 20 to 30 minutes each morning.
Now is the appropriate time to get the heavy pruning done. It is still early enough in the season that any new growth that is forced will harden off before the possibility of cold weather. It seems like a small forest was removed from my back yard as I spent three Sundays (and a few early mornings) stacking up very large piles of removed foliage. This became necessary after neglecting the back yard most of the summer.
Some of the more prolific growers were chopped almost to the ground and after just a week or two, new growth already has appeared. This includes lantana, firebush, hibiscus, porterweed, Mexican sage, golden dew drop and Buddleia. I also pulled out a lot of sweet potato vine and ferns. The back yard looks fresh and is ready for the addition of some color and herbs.
If you have bare spots in your yard, now is a good time for planting strawberries. A good rule of thumb is that 100 plants will provide somewhere between a pint and a quart a day for several months during the season. If you don't have room for 100 plants, don't let that dissuade you from planting a few. Each strawberry eaten straight from the garden will be worth your effort.
When planting strawberries, the ground must be kept moist by watering every two or three days. Mulch and fertilize your plants. Keep an eye out for caterpillars, slugs, thrips, mites and snails. Handpick or treat the plants with an insecticidal soap.
Strawberries grow well in containers. If you have limited garden space, plant a few containers full of these red gems. They look good spilling over the edges of a hanging basket. Be especially vigilant about watering, as the containers will probably need water every day. A water-soluble fertilizer might be the best way to keep them healthy. Keep the ripe berries picked and you'll enjoy your minigarden for a number of months.
An inedible but popular plant is the bougainvillea. If you have had trouble with your plant flowering in the summer, now is the time to rectify the problem. This month is the time to stop feeding and watering until May. If you just can't go into winter without one last fertilizer application, give it a shot of fertilizer that is high in potash and very low in nitrogen. If you have a healthy shrub, nitrogen is the last nutrient it probably needs.
Bougainvillea might become plagued by leaf roller caterpillars. If so, spray them with a liquid insecticide labeled for ornamentals. Apply the chemical late in the day because caterpillars are night feeders.
This is also the perfect time to plant herbs. Try adding anise, basil, borage, chives, chervil, coriander, fennel, garlic, lavender, marjoram, mint, parsley, Rosemary, sage, sesame, Sweet Marjoram and thyme to your garden. Look through your recipes and see which herbs might work in your kitchen. Herbs work double duty as many not only add spice to your kitchen creations but also attract caterpillars and mature butterflies.