Marianne Binetti — It’s time to winterize

The third week of October is time to winterize the patio furniture and vegetable garden, roll up the hoses and stow away the mowing machine. Here in Western Washington we do have some mild winter days that allow lawn rangers to continue to edge and mow the lawn but as the days grow shorter that lawn goes dormant so one final trim and you have a great excuse to mow no more. Neat and tidy gardeners may want to edge the entire lawn before throwing in the trowel on maintenance. No matter what shape your lawn, creating a crisp edge to define the grass from the planting areas will make the whole yard look well-maintained all winter long.

Q. What do you do about deer control? I know you live in deer country and I don’t see how you can grow all those plants you write about with deer in your yard! I really want to know your secret. G.H., Email

A. Oh deer! It is no secret that I must share my garden with wildlife. Just this fall a doe and her adorable twin fawns insisted on destroying a plastic netting fence in order to feast on our apples — ripped the fruit right off the trees. I use a combination of things to try and keep deer damage under control. On my roses I use a deer repellent spray called Bobbex that is made from eggs, cloves, and garlic oil. I make sure the new growth is sprayed in the spring and fall in order to teach the deer that my roses have a nasty flavor. We grow native plants and deer resistant plant material along the edges or border of our two acres, keeping the “deer candy” closer to the house. A motion detector that sprays water and uses noise to hit the deer that permeate this perimeter has helped to say “Not tonight deer” but the best control for any wildlife is a fence. Feed and farm supply stores sell rolls of webbed plastic deer fencing in a dark color that blends in with the landscape and is just about invisible tacked up from tree to tree. This type of fence works well unless you have ripe apples. A strong and sturdy fence at least 7 feet high is the ultimate solution to the deer problem so we are adding more fence lines.

Q. This last year our rhubarb plants turned yellow and weak. Never before have they done so poorly. Do you think it is a seasonal problem or should we replace the soil? H., Enumclaw

A. Lot of folks including me had a disappointing year for rhubarb but I’ve also heard of gardeners that said this was their best rhubarb year ever. The solution to this mystery may never be known but rhubarb does respond well to a manure mulch in early spring. If your rhubarb plants have been in the ground longer than five years it may be time to dig and divide the thick roots or just toss them out and start with fresh rhubarb plants in early spring.

Q. My blueberry plants usually do well but this year some of the berries turned dry and hard before they ripened. I have heard there is a disease called “mummy berry” infecting blueberries. What should I do to treat my plants? T.R., Olympia

A. Get out the rake and clean up under your infected plants to stop the mummies from unraveling and moving on to other berry bushes. Mummy berry is a fungus among us encouraged by cool, wet springs. Cleaning up around the plants in the fall will help to prevent the fungal spores from over wintering and reinfecting the blueberries in the spring. The long dry spell in late summer was most helpful in controlling the spread of fungal infections. Fungicide sprays have not been shown to be very effective in controlling mummy berry on blueberries so I don‘t recommend spraying the plants.

Q. I have some potted mums that I bought at the grocery store and used on my front porch. They are almost done blooming. Can I plant these into my garden bed and will they come back and bloom next year? P., Longview

A. Yes, most mum plants are perennial and will return year after year if you plant them into loose, fertile soil. But you will have to pinch back the new growth at least twice in the spring and summer if you want to keep mum plants compact and full of blooms. This means cutting off the top third of the new growth in the month of May and again in July to force more side branching and budding on the recycled plants. Chrysanthemums also need full sun and should never be allowed to dry out as they wilt quickly. All this mum maintenace is why buying potted mums already in bud is worth the investment. Don’t feel guilty about adding potted plants past their prime to the compost pile. We all need more compost.

Marianne Binetti is a syndicated columnist.