Marianne Binetti

Marianne Binetti: October brings changes in leaves, garden tasks

As September ends, the bulb planting season begins right along with tomato harvesting and leaf raking. You’ve also got a brand new to-do list:

Fertilizer: If you have not yet fertilized the lawn with a fall and winter lawn food, then this is your reminder to feed in the fall. Autumn fertilizing means less lawn weeds in the spring.

Bulbs: You can cut back tender bulbs such as dahlias, cannas and glads as soon as the foliage turns yellow and then uproot the tuber and store in a cold but not freezing spot for the winter.

Rake: Keep large leaves from big leaf maples raked from your lawn. You can store fallen leaves in plastic garbage bags over the winter and use the rotted leaves as a mulch in the spring. Just be sure to poke air holes in the plastic bags and add a bit of soil to get the compost process going. Store the leaf filled bags out of sight behind a shrub or in a shed for the winter.

A few reader questions, with answers.

Q. Some of my tomatoes are not yet red and I want to store them indoors for the winter. Do I need to line them up on the windowsill as my grandmother used to? One friend says I should wrap them in newspaper. Please help. – A.C., Tacoma

A.Green tomatoes will ripen indoors sooner if they are kept warm, so placing them on a sunny windowsill speeds ripeness due to the temperature not the sunlight. Wrapping them in newspaper keeps them from touching one another which can cause rotting.

An easy way to harvest the last of the tomatoes is to uproot the entire plant and hang it upside down from the rafters of a garage or shed. As long as the tomatoes are kept dry and not freezing they have a chance of turning red.

Green tomatoes must make it to a certain stage in order to ripen after they are plucked from the vine. If you see a dark green star on the blossom end of your unripe tomatoes that means it will turn red if given enough time out of the weather. The warmth of the storage area determines how quickly the tomatoes will sweeten up.

Q. I want to add some daffodils and tulips to my garden but am not sure when to plant the bulbs. I bought a package of bulbs from a home center store and it just says to plant in the fall. What month is best? – L.M., Enumclaw

A.Dig in and light up your spring garden with bulbs now so those daffodils and tulips will have plenty of time to grow a root system before winter hits.

In Western Washington our mild winters give gardeners an excuse to procrastinate as you can even wait and plant bulbs in November and still enjoy a colorful spring. Just be sure you remember to get those bulbs into the ground before Christmas and keep them from getting wet while in storage. Many a gardener has found a bag of sprouting bulbs in their garage or garden shed come spring after forgetting to plant in the fall.

Q. Can you suggest a small tree for our climate? I want a tree near our patio but do not want to be pruning branches away from the house in a couple of years. I don’t want a shrub because I do want something that will cast some shade. – P.S., Renton

A.Fall is a great time to add trees to the landscape and Japanese maples are my favorite small tree for near the house.

The paper bark maple or Acer griseum grows to 25 feet in about 10 years and has beautiful peeling bark on the trunk that makes it attractive all year long.

For a shaded area consider the thread leaf Japanese maples such as the Acer palmatum ‘Waterfall’ a slow grower to 10 feet tall. Or consider Japanese maples with variegated foliage. Maples with very small leaves or with light colored foliage can burn in the hot sun.

Another small tree is the Japanese snowbell or Styrax japonica. Delicate dangling white blooms appear in the spring and this small tree does not have invasive roots. Local nurseries compete with great sales on trees and shrubs in the fall, and the return of cooler weather makes autumn a great time for adding trees to the landscape.