Color alone does not indicate that a pumpkin is ready to be harvested. Wait until the outer shell hardens before picking. Use your thumbnail to test; it should dent but not puncture the pumpkin skin. (Photo: Kathy Morrison)
New season starts with dry, windy conditions
Fall begins with a last gasp of summer heat.
Conditions this week represent high fire danger for Northern California, according to the National Weather Service. Monday, the first official day of fall, will see winds blowing 10 to 20 mph with gusts up to 30. Combined with extremely low humidity and warm temperatures, those winds could rapidly spread wildfires.
It’s a reminder to clean up dried grasses, pine needles and other fodder for wildfire. But be careful: Don’t create sparks with your tools or machinery.
After some hot days this week, weather will rapidly cool down in the weeks to come. Get your garden into autumn mode:
* Keep an eye on pumpkins and winter squash. If possible, elevate the ripening fruit or put something underneath them to avoid rot on the bottom. They’re ready to pick when the skin is fully colored and starting to harden; when pressed with your thumbnail, the skin will dent but not puncture. Another sign they’re ready for harvest: The stem will dry out.
* Cultivate and add compost to the soil to replenish its nutrients for fall and winter vegetables and flowers.
* Fertilize deciduous fruit trees.
* Plant onions, lettuce, peas, radishes, turnips, beets, carrots, bok choy, spinach and potatoes directly into the vegetable beds.
* Transplant cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and lettuce seedlings.
* Sow seeds of California poppies, clarkia and African daisies.
* Transplant pansies, violas, fairy primroses, calendulas, stocks, snapdragons and other cool-season flowers.
* Late September is ideal for sowing a new lawn or re-seeding bare spots.
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For week of Dec. 10:
Take advantage of these dry but crisp conditions. It’s time to get out the rake!
* Rake leaves away from storm drains and keep gutters clear.
* Fallen leaves can be used for mulch and compost. Chop up large leaves with a couple of passes with a lawn mower.
* Prune non-flowering trees and shrubs while they’re dormant. Without their foliage, trees are easier to prune.
* Rake and remove dead leaves and stems from dormant perennials.
* Make sure to take frost precautions with new transplants and sensitive plants. Mulch, water and cover tender plants in the late afternoon to retain warmth.
* Succulent plants are at particular risk if temperatures drop below freezing. Don’t water succulents before frost; cover instead. Use cloth sheets, not plastic. Make sure to remove coverings during the day.
* Clean and sharpen garden tools before storing for the winter.
* Brighten the holidays with winter bloomers such as poinsettias, amaryllis, calendulas, Iceland poppies, pansies and primroses.
* Keep poinsettias in a sunny, warm location. Water thoroughly. After the holidays, feed your plants monthly so they'll bloom again next December.
* Just because it rained doesn't mean every plant got watered. Give a drink to plants that the rain didn't reach, such as under eaves or under evergreen trees. Also, well-watered plants hold up better to frost than thirsty plants.
* Plant garlic (December's the last chance -- the ground is getting cold!) and onions for harvest in summer.
* Bare-root season begins. Plant bare-root berries, kiwifruit, grapes, artichokes, horseradish and rhubarb. Beware of soggy soil. It can rot bare-root plants.
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