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Turn garden horror into Halloween fun


The Fremont Community Garden in midtown sports Halloween decorations during a contest last year. Use summer garden remains for your creepy decor. (Photo: Debbie Arrington)

Old vines, dried leaves, dead flowers become creative decorations


Gnarly vines, crackling dry leaves, decay everywhere; the remains of a summer garden look pretty scary right now.

If decorating for Halloween, those old tomato vines and dried cornstalks make for fast, cheap trimmings. (Just keep them outdoors in case they hide any creepy-crawly bugs. The spiders will be part of the ambiance.)

Add a few Halloween props (such as cardboard headstones) and a holiday display can become an effective little slice of garden variety horror.

Many vines work for this outdoor stagecraft. Besides tomato or squash vines, pruned grapevines (with or without withered leaves) and the appropriately named Virginia creeper look good and scary draped over railings or wrapped around posts (or a witch’s legs).

Put bunches of dead or dried flowers on those temporary gravesites. That’s an extra creepy touch.

Dried cornstalks and fresh pumpkins make a harvest-themed holiday display that can be friendly and festive (and last through Thanksgiving) or a little more foreboding for Halloween night. (But keep any jack-o-lantern candles away from the corn.)

My favorite Halloween touch: A vase of prickly rose stems a la Morticia Addams. No blooms? No problem. Cut off the foliage and any bloom remains, leaving a very thorny bouquet. (I’ve got several blood-thirsty candidates in my yard.)

Besides recycling garden remainders, choose decorations with your garden in mind. Straw bales, for example, do double duty. First, they serve as part of Halloween scenery. After that performance, straw makes excellent mulch for the winter garden.

If using as mulch, make sure it’s straw and not hay – or you will have another kind of horror story in your garden. Hay sprouts.

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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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