Gardening

In addition, additional tips on fertilizing and sowing a lawn, as well as caring for a decorative tree in pots.

West Roxbury’s Lu Huang photographed bright sugar maples at Brookline Reservoir Park on October 18. Protect trees from rodents with 18 inch covers or collars made of metal fabric.

What to do this week This is my last garden column until next spring. We are enjoying a surprisingly colorful fall after last summer’s drought. Here at Milton, we have already unhooked and hidden our garden hoses and garden furniture in the basement after the first frost of last week. But we will wait until next spring to cut down perennial gardens and prune trees and shrubs to see what has survived this difficult year and sprouting new growth. We protect young trees against gnawing by rodents with 18-inch casings or collars made by hand from metal canvas. We’ll mow the lawn to 1½ inch until the daytime temperature stays within 50 degrees. We rake the cut leaves into piles to turn them into nutritious mold for next year’s garden. Before storing our push gasoline mower for the winter, we will get rid of the old gas by running the mower dry. We also need to remove and stow the battery and wipe the clumps of grass from the deck underneath after removing the spark plugs. By the way, we’ll replace any corroded or cracked spark plugs and coat the underside of the WD-40 deck. We check the instructions on sharpening or replacing the blades in the mower’s instruction manual. And in search of easier machine maintenance and less pollution, we will consider purchasing an electric lawn mower. During the winter downtime, I will delve into “American Wildflowers: A Guide to the Literary Fields” (Abrams), a sensitive but significant florilegium of poems, essays, and letters from the 18th century to the present about wildflowers and their place in this world of the past, present and future under edited by the Cambridge poet Susan Barby. We gardeners need such books.

Q. I was horrified to see your advice to homeowners to use high phosphorus fertilizers on their lawns. See this link – www.mass.gov/doc/phosphorus-fertilizer-retail-sign/download – on the state website. Phosphorus should only be used when indicated necessary by soil testing.

GC, Franklin

AND. You’re right. Massachusetts has banned the use of phosphorus as a fertilizer for your lawn unless you are sowing your lawn, in which case you want to apply starter fertilizer at the time of sowing or when the new grass is centimeters tall. Another exception is soil testing showing phosphorus deficiency. In any case, you should test the soil before setting up a new lawn, using a DIY kit, or preferably University of Massachusetts Extension Service ([email protected]), which gives more details. Phosphorus is great for grass roots, but its excessive use pollutes our watersheds and suffocates aquatic life. It is provided by our storm sewer systems even if you do not live near a pond or stream.

Q. What’s the best time to plant grass seed?

JM, Hanson

AND. September is by far the best month. It’s too late now, unless you’re in a warmer area like Cape Cod.

Q. What is the best type of lawn seed?

REL, Dedham

AND. Look for a grass mix with more fescue than anything else. This is what best survived the drought of last summer, although you also want to add bluegrass seeds and ryegrass to the mix.

Q. Is there an ornamental tree that can winter outside in a plastic pot?

CC, Ipswich

AND. Dwarf evergreen shrubs are a good choice for outdoor containers. Not that they have not grown. This fall, we transplanted our “dwarf” thuja from a heavy plastic pot on solid concrete steps into our backyard when it exceeded 6 feet. Before that, we had Albert’s Dwarf Spruce. Both of our potted trees were neat, conical evergreen plants. We could even decorate them as miniature Christmas trees. Use the largest and most robust pot you can find, one that is at least 17 inches in diameter. Fill it with a few 20lb bags of potting soil, not backyard soil to promote excellent drainage. Water during warm periods. Wooden or metal containers can also be winter-hardy, but don’t use clay pots. Some garden supply stores sell felted “wool blankets” wrapped around to overwinter plastic pots by insulating the roots of the trees against sudden changes in temperature.

And don’t expect potted trees to have a long life.

“We do not guarantee trees that are not planted in the ground,” said Jack Russell, director of Russell’s Garden Center in Wayland. “Keep expectations low and be pleasantly surprised if he survives.”

Sometimes that sums up gardening in general!

Note: Carol Stocker is on hiatus until March. Follow us on Twitter @globehomes.

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