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Ask the Master Gardener: Hummingbirds hang around until the end of the month

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, hummingbirds start migrating south as early as mid-August and most leave the state by the end of September, although you may still see stragglers into October.

A hummingbird at a feeder.
A hummingbird at a feeder.
Contributed / Metro Newspaper Service
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Dear Master Gardener: When do I stop feeding the hummingbirds?

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Answer: Hummingbirds spend their winters in Mexico and Central America. They breed throughout the eastern half of the United States, including Minnesota. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, they start migrating south as early as mid-August and most leave the state by the end of September, although you may still see stragglers into October.

Dear Master Gardener: My neighbor gave me some Jack-in-the-Pulpit plants that have red berries attached to them. How and where should I plant them?

Answer: Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) is an unusual, exotic-looking native plant and a great addition to a woodland garden. Harvest the berries when they turn red, which should be early September. Each berry typically contains one to six seeds. Use a pruning shears or scissors to cut the berry cluster from the plant. Wear gloves because the juice can be very irritating to the skin. Remove the seeds by gently squeezing them from the berries, and whatever you do — don’t pop one in your mouth! They are poisonous and will burn your mouth! Then plant them one-half inch deep in rich, moist soil in a shady location. Try to imitate their natural habitat as much as possible by adding additional compost and leaf mold and keeping them well-watered.

September Gardening Tips

  • Fall is a great time to plant trees and shrubs. Smaller plants are easier to plant and establish more readily. Mulch over the roots with 3 to 4 inches of wood chips, keeping the mulch an inch or two from the trunk — it should look like a donut. No mulch volcanoes please! Water weekly (unless there is enough rainfall) until the ground freezes.
  • Trees that bleed or are susceptible to disease if pruned in the spring may be pruned now. This includes maples, birch, black walnut, oaks, honey locust, and mountain ash. Prune young trees to a single central leader; remove broken, crossed, or rubbing branches; and gradually remove lower branches. Always make proper pruning cuts just beyond the branch collar at a 45-degree angle.
  • September is the best month to control broadleaf weeds in your lawn. Dandelions, plantain and creeping Charlie are cool season plants that are actively growing in the fall. Dig or pull what you can and spot spray individual weeds or clusters that are scattered throughout the lawn. If you have large patches of weeds, you may be better off killing the entire patch using a broad-leaf herbicide containing 2,4-D. Apply it according to the package directions when temperatures are 60-80 degrees.
  • Late summer/early fall is the best time to start a lawn from seed. Spread seed at a half rate in perpendicular directions across the site for uniform distribution of the seed. Lightly rake, allowing about 10-15% of the seed to show. Follow a light and frequent watering regimen by applying light irrigation up to three or four times per day. Minimize irrigation if it rains. After germination, reduce the watering frequency as roots grow into the soil.
  • Apply fertilizer to your lawn in early to mid-September. Early fall application encourages increased root growth, earlier green-up next spring, and thicker, healthier grass.
  • You can begin lowering the blade on the lawn mower as temperatures cool. Lower it slightly every couple of times you mow until you wind up mowing quite short the last time or two.
  • Dethatch the lawn every few years in September. Aerate if you didn’t do it in spring.
  • Visit the farmer’s market for a great selection of locally grown, tasty and nutritious produce. Minnesota grown apples will be ripening now — look for Honeycrisp after Sept. 15. 
  • If you grow your own apples, pick them when the fruit easily twists off the branch without breaking the spur or branch. Pick plums when they are fully ripe to get the best flavor.
  • Pick grapes as they reach maturity using taste as your guide. Taste-test a grape every few days and harvest the clusters once they are sweet enough for your liking and have lost their tartness.
  • Harvest eggplants when they are 6 to 8 inches long and glossy. Use a knife or pruner to cut the fruits off the plant to prevent damaging the plant.
  • Cure winter squash and pumpkins after harvesting them from your garden by placing them in a warm room for ten days to toughen their skin. Once cured, you can store them at 50-55 degrees, where they should keep for several months.
  • Although Asian lady beetles are beneficial insects that feed on aphids and other pests, they can be quite a terrible nuisance in the fall. They congregate on the sunny south or west sides of houses as temperatures drop. Some make their way indoors. They are annoying, but essentially harmless. If they get into your home, just vacuum them up and empty them into the trash. Don’t smash them because they will leave stains.
  • Now is a good time to seal cracks and openings with weather stripping or caulk to keep bats out of your house and provide enough time for them to find a new winter hibernation site.
  • Before bringing your houseplants back inside, check for signs of insects, spider mites, eggs or webbing and remove or treat them. Wipe off pots and wash saucers. Remove any plant debris from the soil surface. You may want to repot plants with fresh, sterile potting soil to avoid bringing unwanted pests into your home.
  • Plant spring blooming bulbs such as tulips, daffodils, grape hyacinth, snow drops, allium, crocus and scilla this month through mid-October. Choose bulbs that are firm with crisp, papery skins and make sure they are hardy to zone 3. The sooner you plant your bulbs the more likely they will make it through the winter. Placing a layer of chicken wire over newly planted crocus and tulip bulbs will prevent squirrels from digging them up. To protect your bulbs over the winter, mulch them after the soil freezes. 
  • Move amaryllis indoors before the first frost. Store the bulb in a cool, dark place or continue to grow it in its pot indoors.
  • Move citrus plants such as lemon, orange, or kumquat indoors for the winter. Isolate them for several weeks, checking for unwanted insects, to avoid infecting your other houseplants. Grow them in a sunny spot, as they need some direct sun for at least part of the day. Keep the leaves clean by periodically wiping them with a soft, damp cloth. 

You may get your garden questions answered by calling the new Master Gardener Help Line at 218-824-1068 and leaving a message. A Master Gardener will return your call. Or, emailing me at umnmastergardener@gmail.com and I will answer you in the column if space allows.

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University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners are trained and certified volunteers for the University of Minnesota Extension. Information given in this column is based on university research.

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