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Dig In: Garden checklist for week of Oct. 14

Is this pumpkin ready to pick? The thumbnail test will tell.
(Photo courtesy Petr Kratochvil)
Help your pumpkins meet Halloween deadline

October is prime pumpkin time, with gourds big and small nearing perfection. These warm days will lengthen the growing season another week or two (as long as the vines have water) while also ripening those prize squash.

But how do you tell when a pumpkin is ready to pick? And, as Halloween nears, how do you speed up the ripening process?

Pumpkins turn orange while still growing, so color alone is not a reliable ripeness indicator. Instead, wait until the shell -- the pumpkin's outer skin -- hardens. (A soft shell makes for a mushy jack-o'-lantern.)

Judging hardness is easy. Use your thumbnail. Gently try to push your nail into the pumpkin's skin. If it dents but doesn't puncture, the shell is hard enough to pick the pumpkin.

When harvesting your pumpkin, use a sharp knife or pruners. Don't try to pull or twist it off; that can damage the pumpkin and tear the remaining vine (in case there are more pumpkins on the way). Keep attached a big piece of stem, about 3 to 4 inches long; that helps the pumpkin last longer off the vine.

Need your pumpkins to hurry up for Halloween? The more sun the pumpkins get, the faster they ripen.

Trim away any leaves shading the pumpkins and clear out any other obstructions so the pumpkins can feel the sun's rays directly as much as possible. Turn the pumpkins, so both sides get warm in the sun and harden up. If no more baby pumpkins are developing, stop watering the vine; that cues the plant to finish ripening its fruit.

Besides pumpkins, plenty of other plants need some attention now. With temperatures forecast in the low 80s all week, this is a great time to get outside and enjoy your garden (while also getting a lot done).

* October is the best month in Sacramento to plant most trees, shrubs and perennials. If you're thinking about garden renovation or additions, act now.

* Dig up corms and tubers of gladioli, dahlias and tuberous begonias after the foliage dies. Clean and store in a cool, dry place.

* Treat azaleas, gardenias and camellias with chelated iron if leaves are yellowing between the veins.

* Clean up the remainders of the summer vegetable garden and compost disease-free foliage.

* Now is the time to plant seeds for many flowers directly into the garden, including cornflower, nasturtium, nigella, poppy, portulaca, sweet pea and stock.

* Plant seeds for radishes, bok choy, mustard, spinach and peas. Plant garlic and onions.

* Transplant cool-weather vegetables such as lettuce, cabbage, kale, broccoli and cauliflower.

* Set out cool-weather bedding plants, including calendula, pansy, snapdragon, primrose and viola.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 26:

Sacramento can expect another inch of rain from this latest storm. Leave the sprinklers off at least another week. Temps will dip down into the low 30s early in the week, so avoid planting tender seedlings (such as tomatoes). Concentrate on these tasks before or after this week’s rain:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Knock off aphids with a strong blast of water or some bug soap as soon as they appear.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to help corral blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees, which are now in bloom and setting fruit.

To prevent sunburn and borer problems on young trees, paint the exposed portion of the trunk with diluted white latex (water-based) interior paint. Dilute the paint with an equal amount of cold water before application.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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