Many of you may be welcoming the cooler weather, but I say “Where did summer go?”

Cooler days and nights below 50 degrees will definitely slow the tomato harvest. But cooler weeks ahead are great for digging and dividing plants. Gardeners always have the question: when, how much, what kind, what size and when to stop? Some plants can take more abuse than others and recover nicely, such as daylily, hosta and grasses. A good size division for this time of year is about the size of a gallon container.

Tap-rooted plants such as Baptisia are difficult to divide or even move without killing them. Research before digging if you are not sure, but most of your perennials are not tap root.

Other plants that are woody or semi-woody perennials such as Perovskia (AKA Russian sage) are also difficult to divide with success. Just get more — you know where they are sold!

Starting in late September through October you can safely divide peonies. A peony plant should be as big a dinner plate before you attempt to divide, and then into 2-3 sections. The smaller you attempt to make your divisions, the less success you will have. Big divisions are best!

October is also a good time to dig and divide Asiatic lilies and other bulb lilies and replant. Unless they are overpopulated there is no need to divide. Stop dividing TB and IB iris, but Siberian iris still are okay to divide.

Shallow-rooted plants such as mums should be divided in the spring when they have all season to re-establish before winter. Besides peonies and bulbs, you should be stopping the dividing in the next two weeks to ensure good root establishment. Always keep as much soil on the root ball as possible. Container plants can be installed anytime of year that the soil is workable.

An apple a day

Locally grown Minnesota apples are aplenty this time of year. Did you know many of the apple varieties we enjoy were developed in Minnesota? Recognize the name Honeycrisp? My favorite Minnesota apple is Sweet 16, developed in 1977.

Different varieties ripen at different times starting in August through October. Some apples keep or store better than others, so pick the kind you need and you can also process the types with a short storage time. When ripe, usually a gentle tug will remove the apples. If you really have to tug, that would be your first indicator they are not ready to pick.

Perhaps you are enjoying apples from your own tree and wondering what to do with them all? Here are a few ideas: apple jelly, apple butter, caramel apples, baked apples, apple dumplings, apple turnovers, apple cakes and breads, freezing bags of slices for winter use, freezing pies or crisps, dehydrating slices and giving some to your neighbors!

I like to bake slices with alternating slices of sweet potatoes, topped with brown sugar and a little drizzled butter. Whatever you make from the tree is bound to be delicious! Fruit trees can be a lot of work, or you can be a minimalist with them as well, by addressing just a couple of the main issues.

  • Insect issues: The old worm in the apple problem is alive and well! One effective way to rid yourself of worms in your apples is to hang a red sphere in the tree applied with a product called tangle foot, which is a very sticky glue. The moth attempts to lay eggs on the fake apple and is instead stuck to it. Bummer.

Hang several in a mature tree before your apples are setting. I also use tangle foot on posts for nectar feeders where ants are a problem. Spraying dormant oil on the tree in late winter is the single best act you can do to prevent insect issues. Dormant oil, like the name implies, needs to be applied while the tree is dormant to be effective. You can find dormant oil at your local garden shops.

  • Fall clean-up is critical. Clean-up under your tree by removing all the fallen apples — yes, especially the rotten ones. Get them out of your yard. This task will greatly help reduce disease and insect issues next year. The insect eggs and disease issues can winter over and will be right back the next year. For more information on Minnesota apples check out www.apples.umn.edu.

Robb Murray is the Features Editor for The Free Press. He can be reached at 344-6386 or rmurray@mankatofreepress.com. Follow Robb on Twitter @FreePressRobb

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