garden tips

10 Tips for the October Gardener

Iowa State mumsTen Tips for the October Gardener:

  1. Remove, bag and trash any gypsy moth or bagworm egg masses or spray with a horticultural oil to smother them.
  2. This summer was very dry so continue to water ornamental plants up until a hard frost.
  3. Clean up any remaining debris from the garden beds but do not add it to the compost pile unless disease free.
  4. Get your soil tested for next year’s garden now to avoid the spring rush. Collect samples before the ground freezes. More information at
  5. Apply winter mulches around trees and perennials once the ground has frozen. Do not spread it beforehand as it can delay dormancy for plants and also provides cover for chipmunks and voles.
  6. Bring any houseplants back inside before the first frost. Scout for insects and rinse the foliage and containers.
  7. Place daffodil, hyacinth, tulips or other pre-chilled bulbs in pots in a cool dark place so that they can be forced to bloom during the winter.
  8. Keep any newly seeded areas of lawn well-watered.
  9. Replace spent annuals with cold-hardy mums, asters, pansies, or kale for color well into December.
  10. Divide and replant clumps of rhubarb that have become congested.

10 Tips for the May Gardener

green tomato

  1. Plant tomatoes, peppers and melons after the danger of frost is past and the soil temperature is 65° F, usually the last week in May. Plant tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplant in different locations each year to reduce insect and disease problems.
  1. Keep mower blades sharp and set your mower height at 2-3 inches. Remove no more than one-third of the total height per mowing and mulch to return nitrogen and other nutrients to the soil.
  1. Hummingbirds and orioles return to northern states by mid-May. Clean and refill feeders to attract these colorful birds to your backyard. Hummingbirds are attracted to flowers with trumpet-shaped blooms such as columbine, salvia, and fuchsia.
  1. Start to monitor lilies for red lily leaf beetles. Check the underside of leaves for the clusters of tiny orange eggs and remove. Spray with neem every 5-7 days to kill larvae and adults or handpick and destroy.
  1. Remove any sucker growths from fruit trees as soon as they appear.
  1. Plant dahlias, gladioli, cannas and other summer flowering bulbs. Put hoops and stakes in place for floppy plants while they are still small.
  1. Ground covers such as vinca, ajuga, pachysandra, creeping foamflowers, lamium, and ivy can be divided and transplanted now to create new beds or enlarge existing ones.
  1. When transplanting annuals and vegetables, be gentle with the root ball. These plants have small root masses that are easily damaged.
  1. Weed around the bases of trees and shrubs and apply a 2 to 3 inch layer of mulch but do not place it directly against the trunk.
  1. Lay soaker hoses in flower and shrub gardens.

For more information, please contact the UConn Home and Garden Education Center, or call 877-486-6271.

10 Tips for the April Gardener

  1. Continue to apply horticultural oil sprays to control insect pests on fruit trees if temperature is over 40°F.pansies
  1. Sow peas, carrots, radishes, lettuces, and spinach. Plant seedlings of cauliflower, cabbage, and broccoli, weather permitting.
  1. For an instant spring show, fill containers with forced spring bulbs from supermarkets and garden centers.
  1. Prune back bedraggled looking ground covers and fertilize lightly after April 15.
  1. Check fruit trees for tent caterpillars; they emerge around the same time as leaves sprout. Blast nests with a strong spray of water to destroy them.
  1. Remove any remaining last year’s leaves from roses and spread a thin layer of new mulch underneath them to control diseases that may have over-wintered.
  1. Divide overcrowded summer or fall blooming perennials. Check for insects such as the iris borer and discard any pest or disease ridden plants.
  1. Place seedlings in cold frames around April 25 or later to harden off before transplanting.
  1. Prune ornamental grasses and sedums to a height between 6 and 12 inches before new growth starts.
  1. Sow cool-weather edible greens and lettuces in window boxes or shallow containers that can be brought inside if temperatures dip below freezing.

For more information please contact the UConn Home & Garden Education Center at

10 Tips for the March Gardener

  1. Make plans to attend the UConn Garden Conference on March 18, 2016 logo
  1. Carefully remove winter mulches and leftover debris from planting beds to reduce the presence of overwintering diseases and pests.
  1. Get your soil tested through the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory before any major planting or fertilizing venture. Soils sent in before April 1 will avoid the spring rush.
  1. Add limestone as recommended and, if possible, incorporate into planting beds but don’t fertilize yet. Wait until mid-April.
  1. As ground becomes workable, de-thatch the lawn if you find an inch or more of thatch; seed any bare spots. Get the lawn mower serviced, have the blades sharpened.
  1. Seeds of annual flowers and vegetables that require 10-12 weeks of growth before transplanting can be sown indoors now.
  1. Plant seeds of cold weather vegetables like spinach, peas, lettuce and broccoli as soon as soil is workable.
  1. Before new shoots emerge, cut back last year’s stalks on perennials and grasses.
  1. Horticultural oil treatments for maple bladder gall mite, spider mites on evergreens and scale on shrubs and trees can be applied; check labels for specifics on appropriate weather conditions.
  1. Eliminate any hard to mow areas such as acute angles in beds and borders. Combine single trees or shrubs into a large planting connected with ground cover. Put the birdbath in a flowerbed or surround it with ground cover.

For more information visit the UConn Home and Garden Education Center or call 866-486-6271.

10 Tips for the January Gardener

house sparrow


  1. 2015 was a banner year for gypsy moth caterpillars in Connecticut. Check for tan gypsy moth egg masses on tree trunks and branches, scrape or brush off and destroy.
  2. When you are finished with holiday evergreen boughs, use them to mulch tender perennials and shrubs.
  3. Inspect stored bulbs, tubers and corms for rot or infestation. Discard those showing signs of decay or insect damage.
  4. Review garden catalogs for new vegetable varieties to try. Consider varieties with improved insect and/or disease resistance and drought-tolerant types.
  5. Winter is a good time to sign up for gardening classes or seminars offered by many garden centers, town recreation offices, or the UConn Master Gardener Program.
  6. Feed the birds regularly and see that they have water. Birds like suet, fruit, nuts and breadcrumbs as well as birdseed.
  7. Protect your young fruit trees from hungry mice that can chew the bark off at the soil line. Keep mulch several inches from trunks to keep the mice from hiding under it or consider putting wire-screen mouse guards around the trunks of the trees.
  8. When using salt to melt ice on walks and driveways, spread it carefully to avoid damage to nearby shrubs. Consider using sand or sawdust instead.
  9. Houseplants also will benefit from fertilizer applications once or twice this winter.
  10. Seasonal decorations of poinsettia or cyclamen will continue to bloom with proper care. Keep the soil moist but remove foil wrapping to allow the water to drain out. Place your plant in a cool (60 to 65 degrees F) location that gets plenty of light.

For more information, please visit the UConn Home & Garden Education Center or call 1-877-486-6271.


10 Tips for the June Gardener

green tomato
Photo: Diane Hirsch, UConn Extension
  1. Control and reduce aphid numbers on vegetables, roses, perennial flowers, shrubs and trees with a hard spray from your garden hose or two applications of insecticidal soap.
  2. Plant seeds of bush beans every three weeks for a continuous harvest.
  3. Heavy rains encourage slug problems. Check for slugs during rainy periods and hand pick the pests.
  4. Watch for and control blackspot and powdery mildew on rose foliage.
  5. Keep mower blades sharp and set your mower height at 2-3 inches. Remove no more than one-third of the total height per mowing and mulch to return the nitrogen to the soil.
  6. For the sweetest pea harvest, pick regularly before pods become over-mature and peas become starchy.
  7. Stake or cage tomatoes and spray them if necessary to prevent disease problems. Call the UConn Home & Garden Education Center (877) 486-6271 if you suspect tomato disease problems.
  8. To minimize diseases, water with overhead irrigation early enough in the day to allow the foliage to dry before nightfall. Use soaker hoses instead if possible.
  9. White grub preventative control should be applied prior to egg hatch and a target date of June 15th is recommended although it can be done up to July 15th.
  10. Check apple, cherry and other fruit trees for nests of tent caterpillars. Blast low-lying nests with water to destroy them, or knock them to the ground and destroy them. A spray of Btwill kill emerging caterpillars but is not toxic to beneficial insects, birds, or humans.

Gardens, gardens, everywhere…

….be sure to grow with food safety in mind

By Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH, RD

UConn Extension Educator – Food Safety

raised garden bedsIt is hard to believe that spring is just around the corner. Though we in Connecticut were all teased with 35-degree temperatures, we are quickly back in the deep freeze, surrounded by ugly, dirty snow piles that are just not going away.

But go away, they will…and it won’t be long before many churches, schools, community organizations and day care centers are planning, digging and planting their vegetable garden. Gardens have become very popular. It seems like everyone has or wants one: to teach kids about where their food comes from, to grow food to donate to food pantries or community organizations, to save a little money on the ever increasing food budget, or simply for a little outdoor exercise. The locally grown movement has also helped to fuel the garden trend.

If you are working with a group of folks on a community/school/church garden, have you thought beyond the seed catalogues, watering schedules or how you are going to share your bounty? Will this bounty be grown, harvested and handled post-harvest in a way that will minimize the possibility of contamination with the microorganisms that might cause foodborne illness?

Did you know that fresh produce is the number one food source of foodborne illness in the US? The Centers for Disease Control found that 46% of all foodborne illnesses from 1998 to 2008 were attributed to produce and 23% of deaths from foodborne illness (meat and poultry contributed to more deaths-29%).

And yet, few think as they are growing produce to be shared with school children or those with limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables that they might want to consider the fact that there are microorganisms in the soil, in bird poop or on the hands of the harvesters that could, in fact, make someone sick—especially those that may have a compromised immune system such as those that have a chronic disease, are pregnant, or are malnourished.

So what should you do? By using good gardening and harvesting practices, you can help to reduce potential food safety risks from the food you grow.

When planning your garden…

Locate vegetable gardens away from manure piles, garbage cans, septic systems, run-off from any potential sources of contamination, and areas where wildlife, farm animals, or pets roam. Test soil for contaminants, particularly lead, prior to planting. If lead levels are greater than 100 ppm, precautions should be taken as outlined in the document, Soil Lead Interpretation Sheet, available from the University of Connecticut Soil Laboratory at 860-486-4274. Do you want to use compost? To be safe for gardening, your compost must reach a temperature of at least 130°F. Check the temperature with a compost thermometer. Don’t use untreated manure in a garden that feeds a community group, school or neighborhood.

vegetablesWhile your garden is growing…

Know your water source and its potential for contamination. Irrigate using water from an approved public water system. You can be sure that water from a municipal or public water system is safe and potable (drinkable). However, water from lakes, ponds, rivers and streams can be polluted by human sewage or animal waste, fertilizers and pesticides from lawns and farm fields, or chemicals from industry and is more risky. Even water from a rain barrel can be contaminated – best to save that for non-edible plants. If well water is used, be sure to test it at least annually to ensure its safety. During the gardening season, keep cats, dogs and other pets out of the garden, as animal waste can be a source of bacteria, parasites and viruses. Curtail nesting and hiding places for rats and mice by minimizing vegetation at the edges of your fruit and vegetable garden. Fencing or noise deterrents may help discourage other animals.

During harvest time…

People who are sick, particularly with vomiting or diarrhea should not work in the garden or harvest produce. Everyone should wash their hands with soap and water before and after harvesting fresh produce. Do you have hand-washing facilities nearby? Harvest into clean, food-grade containers. Food-grade containers are made from materials designed specifically to safely hold food. Garbage bags, trash cans, and any containers that originally held chemicals such as household cleaners or pesticides are not food-grade. If children are helping out, be sure they are supervised by adults who understand safe harvesting practices. It is best not to let them eat fresh picked food before it is washed. If tools are used for harvesting (knives, clippers), make sure that they are cleaned regularly and designated only for garden use.

Once harvested…

If you choose to wash fruits and vegetables before storing, be sure to dry them thoroughly with a clean paper towel. (NEVER wash berries until you are ready to eat them). If you choose to store without washing, shake, rub or brush off any garden dirt with a paper towel or soft brush while still outside. Store unwashed produce in plastic bags or containers. Keep fruit and vegetable bins clean.

When washing produce fresh from the warm outdoors, the rinse water should not be more than 10 degrees colder than the produce. If you are washing refrigerated produce, use cold water. Fresh fruits and vegetables needing refrigeration can be stored below 41° F. Those that are safe to store at room temperature (onions, potatoes, whole, uncut tomatoes) should be in a cool, dry, pest-free, well-ventilated area separate from household chemicals.

For more information about safe produce gardening and food handling, contact the UConn Home and Garden Education Center at 877-486-6271 or or visit

10 Tips for the March Gardener

  1. Make plans to attend the UConn Garden Conference on March 19, 2015. Go to
  1. Send your soil sample to the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory before April 1st to avoid the spring rush. Add limestone, fertilizer or organic materials as
    feel the earth
    Photo: UNH Extension

    recommended but wait until mid-April to fertilize the lawn.

  1. Start seeds of annual flowers and vegetables that require 10-12 weeks of growth before transplanting such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant.
  1. Direct plant seeds of cold weather vegetables such as spinach, peas, lettuce, and broccoli as soon as the soil is workable.
  1. Also, as the ground becomes workable, de-thatch any areas of the lawn that have an inch or more of thatch, then reseed any bare spots.
  1. Consider putting in raised garden beds in any areas where the soil is especially poor, compacted or does not drain well.
  1. Plant cool-season annuals like pansies, snapdragons, and calendulas at the end of the month if the weather permits.
  1. Carefully remove winter mulches from planting beds as the snow melts and the temperatures warm.
  1. Save plastic milk jugs or 2-liter bottles to use as individual hot caps for small garden plants. Remember to remove them for watering or if the temperature rises.
  1. Prune apple and pear trees as well as blueberry bushes during mild spells. If everbearing raspberries were not cut down last fall, prune the canes to the ground now.

For more information please visit the UConn Home & Garden Education Center or call 1-877-486-6271.

10 Tips for the December Gardener

Poinsettias Nov'141.      Replace the plants in hanging baskets, containers, and window boxes with evergreen boughs, berries and pinecones.

2.      Disinfect, oil, and sharpen lawn and garden tools. Keep them in a dry storage area.

3.      Don’t use fertilizer to melt ice. This creates nitrogen runoff issues that could damage local bodies of water.

4.         Recycle your fresh Christmas tree by using cut branches as insulation over perennials.

5.         Gently clean the leaves of large-leaved houseplants like dracaena, philodendron and ficus. Check for insect pests and treat accordingly.

6.      Drain the fuel tanks of the lawn mower and any other gas-powered lawn tools. Check the belt and spark plugs, change the oil and sharpen the blades.

7.      Remove snow and ice from tree and shrub branches by tapping them gently. It’s best to let the ice melt naturally.

8.      Continue to harvest Brussels sprouts. They’ll typically keep even when buried in snowdrifts

9.      Buy a few holiday plants to decorate your home such as poinsettias or try something a bit more unusual like a cyclamen or kalanchoe.

10.    Use garden notes, photos and sketches to plan out your garden for the upcoming season.

Is your garden bursting with fall tomatoes?

By: Diane Wright Hirsch, UConn Extension Educator/Food Safety


small green tomatoIt has been a great year for growing tomatoes in Connecticut, but the season is rapidly coming to an end with the change to cooler temperatures. As much as we love our delicious vine ripened summer-red tomatoes, it is time for a reality check—summer is over.


If you are a home canner, end of summer tomatoes can be a bit more risky to water bath can. Research has shown the some of the growing conditions and characteristics of late season tomatoes may contribute to a lower acidity or higher pH product. This is one reason it is recommended that when canning tomatoes, you add one tablespoon of commercial lemon juice to pints and two tablespoons to quart jars.


Tomatoes grown in the shade, ripened in shorter hours of daylight, or ripened off the vine tend to be lower in acidity than those ripened in direct sunlight on the vine. Also, tomatoes attached to dead vines at harvest are considerably less acidic than tomatoes harvested from healthy vines. Decayed and damaged tomatoes and those harvested from frost-killed or dead vines should not be home canned—it would be better to freeze them.


What to do with green tomatoes

Still have a bunch of the green ones hanging on the vine? Tomatoes are actually a fruit that can finish the ripening process even when picked green. So if the temperature falls below 50°F for a day or two, start picking the green tomatoes. Be sure to harvest them before the first frost.


Pick ripe, nearly ripe and mature green fruits. Mature green tomatoes are those with a glossy, whitish green fruit color and mature size. It is best to pick fruits only from strong healthy vines and only those fruits free of disease or insect damage. Remove stems before storage to prevent them from puncturing each other. If dirty, gently wash and allow the fruit to air dry (if they do not dry completely, mold and rot are more likely to occur.) Now you are ready to store the tomatoes.


First, sort the tomatoes by degree of ripeness. Greenish-whitish tomatoes have more ripening to do than a tomato tinged with orange or red. Wrap the tomatoes in newspaper or brown sandwich bags. Place in a box or on a tray no more than two layers deep. Store the tomatoes in a cool, dark room.


As tomatoes ripen, they naturally release ethylene gas, which stimulates ripening. To slow ripening, sort out ripened fruits from green tomatoes each week. To speed up ripening, place green or partially ripe fruits in a bag or box with a ripe tomato.

Green, mature tomatoes stored at 65-70°F, will ripen in about 2 weeks. Cooler temperatures slow the ripening process. At 55°F, they will ripen in 3-4 weeks. Never expose tomatoes to temperatures below 50°F for more than a few days—the quality will suffer. An airy cellar or outbuilding with moderate humidity is ideal for storage. Too much humidity will cause decay and too little will cause shriveling.

Every week, check to see how the tomatoes are doing. Separate the red and green tomatoes and to dispose of any rotted fruit. Enjoy the red tomatoes for a snack or your next meal.


Some folks may determine that the results of even the best efforts at ripening these late fall tomatoes are disappointing. They just don’t taste like those August fruits, bursting with tomato-y flavor. I have found that roasting them in the oven can help to intensify the flavor of less than perfectly ripe tomatoes. Toss them with some olive oil in a 350-degree oven and roast until melty. Spread them on toast or toss with some pasta—a simple and delicious meal from the late fall garden.


Try cooking with green tomatoes

Of course you also have the option of enjoying green tomatoes just as they are. Green tomatoes can be tasty, but some may find them astringent. The Southern dish made popular by the movie, Fried Green Tomatoes, is one way to bring out the flavor and sweetness of the tomatoes. Tomatoes are sliced, dipped in flour, beaten egg, and seasoned cornmeal or breadcrumbs, then fried in oil or bacon fat. Yummy, but probably something that we shouldn’t eat on a daily basis!


If you are more adventurous, try substituting them for apples in pies or breads or maybe a savory green tomato crisp with bread crumbs.


Traditionally, home cooks made good use of green tomatoes by making relishes, pickles, or chutneys. Search your cookbook shelf, your local library, or the internet for green tomato recipes. One good source is the National Center for Home Food Preservation at Or, contact the Home and Garden Education Center at or 1-877-486-6271 for more information. Additional information on Food Safety can be found at: