Pumpkins, Gardenias, and Raccoons

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Q. How do I go about preserving my pumpkins until Halloween? They have turned a nice orange color.  Should they be left on the plant or do I remove them just before carving?                                   

A. Actually, you could do both. Besides, the orange color, a pumpkin is mature when the rind loses its shine and it’s hard enough that you can’t scratch it with your fingernail. The curly tendrils on the part of the vine near the pumpkin turn brown and die back when it is completely ripe. Personally, I’d remove them and leave them in a sunny location. This allows them to develop a tough, rot-resistant skin and improves their shelf life dramatically. A mature pumpkin can last for months before spoiling, so, you may wish to save a few for Thanksgiving. When you harvest pumpkins, remove them from the vines with a sharp knife or use a pair of pruning shears. You should also leave about three to four inches of the stem attached to the pumpkin. This also extends its shelf life. In addition, harvested pumpkins don’t need to be washed. The dirt can simply be brushed off after a few days of drying.

Q. Last year, I bought a blooming Gardenia at the grocery store. I have it growing indoors where it gets morning sun and lots of light. This year, I‘ve only had two blooms. All the other buds have turned black and dropped off. What can I do to keep the blooms from falling off?                                                    

A. Gardenias are not the easiest plants to get to bloom. It’s not unusual for gardeners to have issues with the buds turning black and falling off both indoors and in the landscape. The primary cause for bud drop is nighttime temperatures below sixty degrees. With outdoor plants, September through early November is the best blooming period. You have shorter days and warmer nights along with some humidly. Indoors you have better control on the temperature but it can get awfully dry. So, you might want to place it on a saucer with pebbles and add a little water to raise the humidly. The water line should be below the bottom of the pot. Gardenias do not like to be disturbed so this can be the other reason for bud drop. So with container plants, keep them in one location, and move them as little as possible.

 Note: Gardenias found with the blooming plants at supermarkets and other retailers are usually grown under control conditions in a greenhouse while the landscape plants are grown under different conditions outdoors.     

Q. Last fall, we had a problem with raccoons. They tore up the lawn to feast on the grubs. I’d like to avoid the problem this year and discourage the raccoons early on. Is there an easy way to tell if the lawn grubs have returned?

A. There is a simple test for the presence of grubs you can do using detergent and water. Grub damage normally starts next to a hot cement or concrete edge and quickly expands towards the center of the lawn. The grass turns brown and you’ll also notice the lawn thinning out or disappearing, leaving bare spots. To conduct the grub test, you should set up several test sites both in the areas attacked last year and some neutral sites. With stakes and string, mark off several two by two-foot squares in each of the areas. Next, mix two tablespoons of a liquid soap or detergent in a bucket of water and pour the solution evenly over the areas. For the next ten to fifteen minutes, you keep a close eye on the soil surface. The detergent agitates the grubs forcing them to the surface. If grubs are present, you control them by applying Beneficial Nematodes. Beneficial Nematodes are an environmentally friendly method of killing all the soil insects except earthworms. Another option is Bonide Grub Beater. This is a granular product that’s applied with a spreader as early as June to protect the area for the balance of the year. I might apply a grub control solution even if the tests prove to be negative or inconclusive. You don’t want to wait until the raccoon’s return as the controls will take some weeks to work, all the while the damage continues. The raccoons will be a frequent visitor until they are convinced that the grubs are gone.

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