THE BUG THAT WOULDN'T LEAVE: This month you are probably having more trouble with bugs in your house than in your garden. However, aphids are one of the few garden pests that we never seem to be rid of. Aphids will find a sheltered plant in your garden and continue to feed and reproduce throughout the winter. When the weather warms again, they will be ready to launch an all-out attack on your garden's new growth. How do you stop them? Seek them out in the sheltered areas of your gardens with an insecticidal soap spray. Review T.J. Martin's "What's Bugging You?" column on aphids (MG Newsletter, May 1990) for more on this truly fascinating insect.
TO WRAP OR NOT TO WRAP: There has been a lot of tree planting activity this past year, and many young trees are facing their first winter exposed to the elements. We now have to decide whether to wrap the tender trunks of our new trees. Wrapping doesn't hurt a young tree, and it does provide some extra support in our winter winds. The real reason to wrap tree trunks is to protect them from weather variations in the spring months. Some trees are vulnerable to early sap flow during warm winters or early springs. The sap then freezes when Old Man Winter returns for one last hurrah. The damage (splits or soft sunken areas on the trunk) usually appears on the southwest side of the tree where the sun is most concentrated. Painting a tree trunk with white tree paint or wrapping it with white tree wrap reflects some of the heat off of the tree's trunk, and lessens the likelihood of early sap flow and "southwest injury". So, do we wrap now or later? If you have a tree that is marginal for this area, that has had southwest injury in the past, or that is newly planted, go ahead and wrap it now. By the way, wrapping a tree trunk is often more effective at preventing southwest injury than painting it.
GOOD TIME FOR A DRIP: Now is a good time to install that drip system you've talking about for the past few months. There's a lull in gardening chores, the weather is great for working in the gardens, and you will have six months to tinker with it before the dry and dusty June days put it to the test. Many of the more recent garden books have sections dedicated to drip irrigation and Cooperative Extension has several pamphlets that can help you design your system.
OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW: Though this isn't always the best advice, it is a smart practice when it comes to mulch. In the spring we advised you to rake up the winter mulch and put down fresh mulch for the summer months. Now we are offering the same advice again, and with the same aim - to remove as many as we can of the eggs or larvae that will produce next year's insects. Rake up what's left of the top layer of your summer mulch and bag, burn, or compost it. Work the finely broken down lower layer into the top several inches of your soil and add a layer of fresh mulch (use ground bark, wood chips, straw, grass clippings, leaves, compost, even shredded black & white newsprint). Apply a layer 1 to 2 inches thick for fine mulches, 2 to 4 inches for coarser mulches.
WINTER HERB GARDENS: Just as there are cool-season vegetables, there are cool season herbs. With all the cooking that the winter holidays bring, a planting of parsley, mint, cilantro, chives, sage, thyme, oregano, marjoram, and rosemary is a welcome addition in any cook's garden. Winter herbs like day temperatures in the 60's and 70's and will often tolerate night temperatures in the low 40's. They do need good drainage, lots of room to grow, and plenty of winter sunshine. Don't try growing them from seed though - it is slow at best. Instead purchase starter plants from nurseries, or ask friends for clumps or cuttings.
IT CAN'T BE WINTER, YET - I'VE STILL GOT GREEN TOMATOES: You can extend the life of your tomato plants through November by using some of the frost protection strategies described elsewhere in this issue. Even though a light night frost won't kill the plants, it will damage the fruit, so it is critical to protect the plants as much as possible. If an early frost finds you and your tomato plants unprepared, don't despair. Pull up the tomato plant and hang it stem up - roots down - in a place where the temperature will stay between 55 and 72 degrees F. The tomatoes will continue to ripen on the vine even after the plant has wilted. If all else fails, there's always green tomato chutney.