Marianne Binetti

Marianne Binetti: Take advantage of nature’s bounty for decorating

Pumpkins, squash and mums are all plants that celebrate the fall season.

An inexpensive way to decorate your home or porch for the change in seasons is to harvest all your squash, apples, corn, tomatoes, peppers and other produce and display your garden bounty in a basket or tray.

Even a basket of colorful leaves raked from the lawn and set near the front door will remind you and your visitors to enjoy the colors of the new season. If you have time and twine, use a stapler to secure maple leaves to a length of twine and then frame your front door or windows with a garland of fall colors.

A few reader questions, with answers:

Q. I want to cook a pumpkin pie with our Jack O’lantern once Halloween is over. Can we still put the carved pumpkin outdoors for a week or so before baking? How long does it take for a pumpkin to rot after carving? T.S., Renton

A. Jack does not make good pie. Pumpkins sold for carving are not as sweet and tender as baking pumpkins. Better to use a carving pumpkin on the front porch and a baking pumpkin for pies.

You can expect a carved pumpkin to last for several weeks without rotting outdoors if it is kept cool and dry. You can find “baking pumpkins” at grocery stores and farmers markets. They are specially labeled and often more expensive. These baking pumpkins have great guts but no glory as they end up mashed and baked rather than carved and filled with light.

Q. Is fall a good time to cut back my tall ornamental grasses? I am not sure what type they are as we just moved into this home and are in the process of cutting back and moving plants. T.T., Sumner

A. Congrats on the new home and renovation fever, but you may want to wait until early spring to cut back any tall ornamental grasses. Winter is when the tall miscanthus grasses add texture and bird food to the landscape and the traditional pruning time in Western Washington is to celebrate the Valentine’s Day Massacre by cutting all brown and shaggy grasses down to a few inches tall.

Early spring pruning allows the fresh spring growth to take over and hide the stumpy brown remnants of winter. Pruning tall grasses in the fall may not kill your grassy clumps but it could stimulate new growth right when winter arrives. Evergreen ornamental grasses that do not turn brown in the winter such as black Mondo grass, carex, blue fescue and sedges should not be pruned at all. If you need to tidy up these evergreen grasses wait until spring and divide up the clumps, removing weak and dead sections but do not cut them down to the ground as you would taller grasses.

Q. Please explain again how and when to prune hydrangeas. I have one in the front that has beautiful purple blossoms, but is getting too large. P., Email

A. Mop head hydrangeas with round flower heads can be pruned now or in the early spring by following the branch that has a flower cluster at the end and cutting down low inside the center of the shrub.

This type of hydrangea is the macrophylla, or big leaf hydrangea, and it blooms on two year old branches. If you prune back all the branches your hydrangea will not flower the next summer.

The trick is to shorten up only the branches that have already flowered and leave the branches with green leaves but no blooms untouched as these will bloom next summer. Always remove the three D’s – anything dead, diseased or damaged. Always shorten up any branches in the way of walkways or mowers. Put people before plants when it comes to overly ambitious growth of any tree or shrub.