Maine Home Garden News — October 2011

October is the month to . . .

By Katherine Garland, Horticulturist, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Penobscot County,

  • Keep up with the weeds. Mow, cover, or pull weeds to minimize the seed bank and reduce perennial weed pressure. Allowing weeds to go to seed in the fall can lead to a lot more work in the garden for many seasons to come.
  • Take pictures and save tags for your garden records. Going a step further by making a map of your current garden and making notes of varieties that worked well or didn’t work well will be an enormous help when planning your garden for next season.
  • Store produce in the proper location and process produce safely. University of Maine Cooperative Extension has a number of helpful videos and free bulletins on food preservation and harvesting on their website: visit our Food & Health website or call 1-800-287-0274 with questions.
  • Join Maine Harvest for Hunger by sharing your extra produce with your local food cupboard, shelter, and neighbors in need. Help us reach our goal of donating 250,000 pounds this year by reporting your donations online or call your local Extension office.
  • Perennials . . . to cut back or not to cut back?It depends.
    • Cutting back foliage provides a clean aesthetic, removes diseased plant tissue, leaves less to pick up next spring, and makes it much easier to divide plants and clean out weeds.
    • Leaving perennials intact provides attractive seed heads and interesting plant structures for enjoyment through the winter, sturdy stems for bird habitat, thermal protection for the roots of marginally hardy perennials, and a natural marker for late rising perennials.
    • To safely cut back most perennials leave 2-3 inches of plant material above the crown.
  • Have your soil tested. A standard soil test is an easy and inexpensive way to find out information regarding essential nutrients, pH, and organic matter content that may be limiting the productivity of your garden. For only $15, you will receive a full report that will include a lead scan and specific recommendations for soil additives. Request a soil test kit from the Maine Soil Testing Service or stop by your local University of Maine Cooperative Extension office to pick one up.

  • Protect stems of fruit trees from mice and voles with hardware cloth or other physical barrier. If you have a deer population, fences will help reduce browsing pressure on young trees.
  • Add organic matter (OM) to the soil.OM improves soil structure and stability, drainage, moisture retention, and nutrient availability.
    • Manure
    • Cover crops (ex: oats, rye, buckwheat)
    • Disease-free plant debris (ex: shredded leaf litter)
  • Plant garlic, tulips, daffodils, and other fall bulbs. Follow planting instructions carefully and avoid planting bulbs too early.
  • Dig tender bulbs such as dahlias and cannas to overwinter in a cool, dark location.
  • Empty container gardens and properly store containerized plants.
  • Extend the season. Crops adapted to cool seasons are a real treat to harvest well after the snow flies. Broccoli, salad greens, beets, carrots, radishes, and cabbage are all excellent options for the fall garden.
  • Explore your resources! If it gets too cold or rainy to be out in the garden, please take a moment to visit your UMaine Extension website or local UMaine Extension county office. Find hours of short video clips about specific gardening topics at

Fall Gardening Practices & Plant Diseases — What’s a Gardener to Do?

By Dr. Richard Brzozowski, Extension Educator, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Cumberland County, and Dr, Bruce Watt, Scientist/Plant Disease Diagnostician, University of Maine Pest Management,

White mold with pebble-like structures called sclerotia
White mold forms specialized pebble-like survival structures called sclerotia, which can survive in the soil for several years. Photo by Bruce Watt. (Click on the image to see an enlargement.)

One might assume that because we live in a cold climate, plant diseases don’t and can’t over winter. That assumption would be wrong.

Plant diseases can and do overwinter in Maine. For that reason, it is important to clean up your gardens in the fall to reduce the possibility of diseases occurring next year. Clear the garden of all annual plant materials — these are potential harborage for diseases that had occurred this year.

Most diseases which are common in the garden are caused by fungi, whether it be a garden of fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers or grasses. Fungi can vary considerably, much like plants and other living things vary. Different fungi have different life cycles and survival strategies. Some fungi might spread throughout the growing season while others are restricted to a specific time period. But to get through the winter, fungi survive in winter hardy growth stages such as specialized spores or as mycelium.

Overwintering spores are similar to seeds. They remain dormant until the temperature warms in the spring and the presence of moisture signals them to germinate. A mycelium is a fungal mat within the plant tissues which can be winter hardy and which resumes growth in the spring, often producing a new crop of spores.

So as a gardener, what can you do to reduce or eliminate the potential of fungal diseases on next year’s plants?

  1. Remove all annual plant tissue from the garden. Pull it up — roots and all. Remove it from your property. Other options for handling this annual plant material include: shredding it in place, plowing it under, composting it or burning it. By plowing plant debris under the soil in the fall, micro-organisms such as beneficial bacteria, fungi, and insects can help break it down and eliminate it as a harborage during the winter and into the spring.
  2. Cut back perennial plant materials when the plants display dormancy or no growth. Perform the cutting prior to the ground freezing (October and November). Perennial plants generally use the time after flowering and/or fruiting to store carbohydrates in their roots as a store of foods for the next growing season.
  3. Mow grass and weeds that might surround your garden areas before November. Remove brush growth. Remove any trees branches that are shading the garden area using a pole saw or hiring a tree service. Keeping things open and sunlit will help reduce disease pressures.

Think back to what occurred in your garden(s) this past growing season. Some signs of fungal disease include cankers on stems, rotted and withered fruit, wilted leaves, and yellowing or browning of leaves. Severe disease problems are pretty obvious but even low levels of disease can build up over the years to become a bigger and bigger problem.

Be aware that some diseases are very difficult to eliminate and it is best to identify these problems in your garden. For example, white mold forms specialized pebble-like survival structures called sclerotia which can survive in the soil for several years. If white mold was a problem for you, remove the plant material entirely from your garden.

Don’t Feed the Deer!

By Donna Coffin, Extension Professor, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Piscataquis County,

white-tailed deer
White-tailed deer. Photo by David Cappaert, Michigan State University,

For some home gardeners and homeowners, deer are a wonderful species of wildlife that they want to see frequently near their home. We live in a state that is known for its large deer population and many people enjoy seeing them frolicking in their backyard. To encourage more deer sightings, some people start feeding deer grain in the fall. The folks at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IF&W) know that this act can, unfortunately, have detrimental affects on the deer. For years, IF&W has tried to discourage people from feeding grain to the deer.

Why? Feeding deer grain changes the microorganisms in their stomach so that they can’t digest their usual winter diet as well (usually deer browse on tree branches in the winter). Also, feeding grain causes large numbers of deer to congregate near the feeder, making them more susceptible to disease and even traffic fatalities. One year on a one mile stretch of road that I traveled frequently in Central Maine, the game wardens said they had cleared over 100 dead deer from the road. That didn’t include the injured deer that ran farther away from the road to die. The deaths and injuries resulted from a large herd of deer that were moving daily between two homes, located on opposite sides of the road, where folks were putting out grain for them.

Please don’t feed deer grain!

If you want to help deer through the winter and you have a woodlot, consider cutting a few cedar trees down for them to browse. If you cut down hardwood trees this winter to start on your firewood needs for next winter, consider leaving the tree tops on the ground to provide food for deer.

Deer can be very destructive in the home landscape and garden. Anyone trying to grow apple trees, strawberries, cedar hedges, yews, etc. are plagued by deer eating their plants at all times of the year. When neighbors feed the deer, the gardens and landscapes around them suffer.

View the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife position statement on the practice of supplemental feeding of white-tailed deer during winter. This website includes information on the disadvantages to supplemental feeding, why deer may starve when fed supplemental foods during winter, long-term impacts on the behavior of deer, preferred alternatives to supplemental feeding of deer, and how citizens of Maine can best help Maine’s winter deer herds.

University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Maine Home Garden News is designed to equip home gardeners with practical, timely information.

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Maine Home Garden News was created in response to a continued increase in requests for information on gardening and includes timely and seasonal tips, as well as research-based articles on all aspects of gardening. Articles are written by UMaine Extension specialists, educators, and horticulture professionals, as well as Master Gardener Volunteers from around Maine, with Professor Richard Brzozowski serving as editor.

Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.

© 2011
Published and distributed in furtherance of Acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914, by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, the Land Grant University of the state of Maine and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Cooperative Extension and other agencies of the U.S.D.A. provide equal opportunities in programs and employment.

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