It's a great time to savor the crops of fall
Patrice in Great Mills writes: "I have cauliflower, leeks, beets, spinach and lettuce still in the ground. They look absolutely beautiful and I've put straw over them to protect them from the cold. But, it's getting really cold! I'm starting to eat the leeks, spinach and lettuce. The beets I figure will be good for a while yet. Not sure when to harvest the cauliflower. Should I cover it all with a floating row cover and hope for the best? Or just pull everything up and eat it?"
Harvest the beets before they get woody from being in the ground too long. Bring in the cauliflower while the heads are still nice and white, even if they're still a little small. A really hard freeze might turn them black.
Then protect the rest of your fall crops with a floating row cover -- spun polyester blankets that come in rolls and are available at larger garden centers. The extra frost protection these great accessories provide will allow you to harvest those greens ‘cut and come again' style at least until January.
Let the leeks go through some more light frosts before you bring the last of them in, which will allow you to enjoy them at their peak flavor.
Ladybug, ladybug, get out of my home!
Mike in Arlington writes: "Our daughter's house near Fredericksburg is infested with ladybugs. They come inside every winter and we can't get rid of them. What do you advise?"
I advise you to be happy that they're not stinkbugs, conifer seed bugs or any of the other useless insects that also invade homes at this time of year looking for happy places to hibernate. Those multicolored Asian ladybugs are really beneficial in other situations!
So get a canister vacuum, put some straw or raffia in the bag, and vacuum them all up. Then spray some plain water into the bag, seal the opening and stick it in the fridge. Then you can give the ladybugs to someone who has pest problems right now -- like in a greenhouse or forest of indoor plants --or wait until the spring and release them outside. Either way, they'll eat lots of aphids and other soft-bodied pests.
Not so wild about wild onions and garlic grass
Ann in Flint Hill and Steve in Springfield both have the same kind of problem plant. Ann says she has a new perennial bed infested with wild garlic, some of which, she fears, is too close to the new plants for her to dig up without harm. Steve is a new home owner with patches of onion grass in his lawn.
Ann: You need a tool called the Water Powered Weeder. It is available online or via mail-order from specialty suppliers like the Lee Valley Tool catalog. It's a long spike that attaches to your garden hose that shoots a laser beam-like sliver of water into the soil. This pops bulbing weeds like wild garlic right out of the ground without harming adjacent plants.
Steve: You need to soak those big patches until the soil is completely saturated and then slowly pull the clumps of onion grass up, roots and all. If your lawn is composed of bluegrass or other spreading grass, it should fill in the bare spots on its own come spring. If you have a clumping grass like fescue, you'll have to reseed those areas next August. No, the seed won't take hold now or in the spring. That's why you should have dealt with the onion grass a couple of months ago when you could have reseeded right away.
Oh, and forget using herbicides on these or other bulbing weeds like Star of Bethlehem. The chemicals just roll right off those waxy, leafless weeds.
Don't cover mulches with a tarp. Mulch is the cover!
Tom in College Park writes: "I took your advice and have been vacuuming up all my leaves this fall with a blower-vac that shreds them automatically. I already have enough to mulch the garden and to fill a few large bags in case I need more mulch in the spring. I currently have a layer of about 3 inches of finely chopped leaves on the garden. Should I cover it with a tarp to keep the leaves from blowing all over the place? Or are they better left in the sun?"
Covering your leaf mulch with a tarp would make it all moldy, Tom. Just leave the leaves alone. They stay in place really well on their own. When spring comes, pull the mulch aside for a week to let the soil warm up, and then replace it right after your plants go in; that'll get you off to a great start at a weed-free summer.