While there have been some problems in flower and vegetable gardens this year, most gardeners and growers say that, overall, this has been a terrific growing season.
The warm temperatures and relatively dry weather have discouraged many diseases and allowed warm-loving crops to thrive this year.
My biggest challenge at home is providing enough water to my plants. We have a limited well so my husband and I need to negotiate over whose garden will get watered each day. He grows the vegetables we eat, while I mostly grow aesthetically pleasing flowers and ornamentals. Unfortunately for me, eating usually trumps beauty when it comes to water!
Gardens that have been getting plenty of supplemental water are thriving this summer. My perennial flower bed is surviving but by no means thriving, as it remains thirsty. The helianthus is just beginning to flower now so I carefully spot water those plants to ensure some end-of-the-season color.
My super reliable sedum Autumn Joy is quite drought tolerant so it's holding up just fine so far and just beginning to color up as well. One of the things I like best about this variety is the way the flower heads continue to change in size, and then in color, all the way through our first snowfall. The green flower buds remind me of broccoli right now, but the first hints of pinkish-bronze flower petals are just beginning to show.
Late summer is when some common problems arrive but most of them need no action on your part. Because they are showing up so late in the season they may be unsightly but they aren't life-threatening to your plants. Here are a few I'm seeing this year.
This has become a banner year for fall webworm in the Champlain Valley. This caterpillar arrives in late summer and makes very obvious, webby nests at the ends of branches of all kinds of trees and sometimes shrubs. You'll see them as you drive along country roads, often on branches high up in the trees. It's been years since I can remember seeing such a heavy infestation. But don't worry too much. The webs look awful but those branches will leaf out again next spring. If you can reach the webs, you can try pulling them out with a rake or long stick — otherwise try to look the other way.
My phlox has been getting all kinds of problems in recent years — powdery mildew on the leaves, spider mites and lace bugs, all that ruin the leaves but usually don't bother the flowers. I'm still cutting long stems for arrangements and stripping off the ugly leaves. The flowers hold up well and provide some welcome color. I try to locate medium-sized plants such as my Autumn Joy in front of my phlox to hide its damaged leaves, and the showy phlox flowers are easily visible above the sedum.
watch for LATE BLIGHT
If your squash, melons or cucumbers get powdery mildew now, it's late enough in the season that you really don't need to worry. It's another story for commercial growers who need a good yield but home gardeners usually end up with more squash and cucumbers than they can easily use anyway. It's very difficult to stop powdery mildew even if you're willing to use pesticides. A better option for home gardeners is to make a note of the varieties that had trouble this year and be sure to choose mildew-resistant varieties next year.
Last of all, late blight has not arrived in our area yet, but it is getting closer. It was found in mid-August on tomatoes in Washington County, just south of Ticonderoga, as well as in Vermont. Many gardeners are picking their tomatoes when they just start to color up to let them ripen indoors rather than risk them getting damaged in the garden.
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. Web site: www.cce.cornell.edu/ecgardening. E-mail questions to askMG@cornell.edu