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The Bay Gardener by Dr. Francis Gouin

Here’s how to plant them

Pansies give the garden fall, winter and early spring color. Breeders have provided us with a great array of colorful varieties to choose from. These hearty flowers are one of the few plant species with light- and dark-blue flowers. In addition to solid colors — yellow, brown, purple and reddish-brown — my favorite cultivar, the Pacific Giant, includes blooms with brown monkey faces in their center.

Follow my advice, and you’ll get years of big flowers

In New Hampshire where I grew up, tulips were a perennial crop. A single planting would last many years, producing large, beautiful flowers year after year. Here in Southern Maryland, tulips are generally grown as an ­annual crop.

Big flowers spring from well-developed roots

Don’t wait for the ground to cool before planting spring-flowering bulbs. The sooner you plant in the fall, the longer they will survive and the better they will bloom. Gardeners who wait to purchase their bulbs at end-of-the-year sales are likely to see smaller flowers and smaller plants next spring. If buying from open bins, you are also likely to be purchasing smaller bulbs because the larger ones have already been taken. The larger the bulb, the bigger the flower.

Gita is my recommendation

A Bay Weekly reader complained to me that she has not been able to harvest string beans all summer long.     First, I reminded her that saying string beans is showing her age. When I helped my mother prepare green beans for canning, I had to snip the end followed by pulling a long green string from the inner curve of the bean. Strings have not been a problem with green beans for the past 45 years, and the name was changed to snap beans.

Here’s how to help your plants avoid self-strangulation

When I visit friends’ homes, being asked to diagnose plant problems is not uncommon. I entered one friend’s front door only to be escorted outside to diagnose the cause of a groundcover juniper’s death. My friend had planted three junipers in 2009; one had died in June.

Save your soil with a cover crop

If you are not planning a fall vegetable garden, it’s worth your while to consider a cover crop of rye or winter wheat. Your corn, beans, tomatoes, lettuce and pepper plants may not have used all of the nutrients in the soil. Even if you did not apply more fertilizer than the plants needed, even if you are an organic grower, there is organic matter in the soil that continues to decompose, releasing nutrients until the ground freezes.

Get a soil test, and I’ll write you a free prescription for what to do next

If your lawn is just so-so and you want to make it look like a professional lawn next year, now is the time to take action.

They’ll taste great come winter

Are you being flooded with tomatoes? My neighbors are willing to take their share but they can take only so many. If you enjoy canning, make catsup, salsa, tomato juice, stewed tomatoes or crushed tomatoes. I have and still have tomatoes to spare.     I fry green tomatoes by dredging them through a mixture of corn meal and Old Bay prior to frying in olive oil. Fried red tomatoes are also a favorite for some.     If you have a food drier, try drying tomato slices.

If you’ve got to use weed killer, now’s the time

Spraying weed killer is generally a bad idea. Spraying must be done with great care and careful targeting when the wind is calm. But if you need to spray to kill underbrush, late August and September is the time.     When foliage is mature, photosynthesis is in high gear and the roots are being resupplied. In other words, the sugars being produced by the leaves are now translocating back to the roots. Root resupply generally begins in mid-July and is at its peak in August and September.

They’re infesting roses and spruce

While driving I passed a planting of roses that did not appear normal. Up close I saw that the plants were heavily infested with spider mites. The foliage and stems had a rusty red color and were covered with fine webs. The variety of roses appeared to be Knockouts, which are advertised as very resistant to insects.