October 31, 2011

Frost came later than usual in North Country

AMY IVY, Cornell Co-op Extension

---- — Well, we can hardly complain about an early frost this year.

There are plenty of other weather-related events to complain about in regard to this past growing season, but an early frost isn't one of them.

The higher elevations have already had a few frosts, but those of us in the "banana belt" of the Champlain Valley were pretty lucky, up until Friday morning. Oct. 28 as the date of the first killing frost might be some kind of record for our region. It certainly is later than usual.

For years, when I've been pressed to declare the first and last dates for planting, I've said May 20 and Sept. 15. We have had some early May frosts so I might stay with May 20 as a safe date, but I think I'm going to have to adjust that September date.

I did have a very light frost on Sept. 9 this year, but it only got some of my squash vines. It didn't touch the other tender flowers, vegetables and herbs growing elsewhere in our yard. Since that date, we've had plenty of mild days — and even some sunshine — to keep cool crops going.

But now it's time to clean up the garden. Annual flowers and vegetables can be yanked up and added to the compost pile. Rhubarb and asparagus are plenty hardy throughout our region and need no extra attention.

I remove the rhubarb leaves as they fade and add them to the compost pile. Asparagus tops turn a gorgeous bright yellow in the fall. You can leave them standing all winter if you want.

But if you had a problem with asparagus beetles this summer, it's a good idea to cut down and remove the ferny top growth in fall in an attempt to remove some of the overwintering beetles.

We've seen some spring flowering shrubs push out a few blooms this month. They are obviously confused. This happens some years when we have a cold snap followed by a spell of mild, sunny weather. Spring blooming shrubs produce their flower buds the previous fall in order to be all ready to go the following spring.

Luckily, in years when some of these buds open prematurely in the fall, enough of them stay closed to ensure a good show next spring.

Leaves are continuing to fall. It's handy that the different species shed their leaves at different times. Not only does this spread out the period of fall color, it also spreads out the chore of leaf raking. Just imagine if all our trees dropped their leaves within a week or two of each other.

Frank Rossi, turf specialist with Cornell University, has done extensive research on mulching leaves right into turf and has had some exciting results. As long as you can chop them up fine enough with repeated mowing, or using a mulching-mower, you can leave up to about 6 inches of leaves right on your lawn.

The key is to chop them up and blow them down between the grass blades so your turf isn't completely smothered.

If some air can move through the chopped layer, leaves will decompose quite rapidly and actually help suppress spring weeds in your lawn.

Amy Ivy is executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension, Clinton County. Office phone numbers: Clinton County, 561-7450, Essex County, 962-4810, Franklin County, 483-7403. Website: Email questions to