Growing Green: pumpkins and mums
Fall is the season for pumpkins and chrysanthemums!
Halloween pumpkins are generally harvested in September through October. The first frost typically occurs in early to mid-October when the pumpkin fruits are still curing outside in the fields. The growers in pick-your-own pumpkin operations use this method to ensure that pumpkins are well cured in the field before picked up by their customers.
It is important to note that pumpkin fruits can tolerate light frost that kill the vines only, but more fruit loss can occur if the frost caused injury on the fruit surface as the damaged areas act as avenues for fungal and bacterial fruit rot pathogens. The pumpkin fruit is harvested when it is uniformly orange and the rind is hard.
Green immature fruits may ripen during the curing process, but not after the vines are killed by frost. The vines need to be dry when fruits are mature. Handle the fruit with care to avoid cuts and bruises.
Harvest the fruit by cutting it off the vine with a sharp knife or a pair of looping shears leaving 3 to 6 inches of the stem attached to the fruit. This makes the fruit look more attractive and less likely to be attacked by fruit rot pathogens at the point of stem attachment.
Do not carry the pumpkin fruit using the fruit stem because the fruit is very heavy and may lead to detachment of the fruit stem. Wash the fruit with soapy water containing one part of chlorine bleach to 10 parts of water to remove the soil and kill the pathogens on the surface of the fruit.
Chrysanthemums are flowering herbaceous plants, but are mums an annual or perennial?
The answer is both.
There are several species of chrysanthemum, with some being hardier than others. The perennial type are often called hardy mums.
Many buy mums in the fall, thinking the plants are annuals. They may toss the mums in the compost pile once the blooms have faded. But if you buy hardy mums, you can get them to bloom year after year.
You can plant a potted florist mum, and it may grow for the summer, but it will not survive the winter, no matter how much protection you give it. Garden or hardy mums, on the other hand, produce underground stolens and can better survive cold weather.
Caring for your plants is easy. Check the soil moisture daily, and water newly-planted mums thoroughly, and never let them wilt. After they are established, give mums about 1 inch of water per week. When bottom leaves look limp or start to turn brown, water more often. Avoid soaking the foliage, which encourages disease.
The next step in winter care for mums is to properly insulate them in the fall. The leaves of the plant will die back and become brown after a few hard frosts. After the foliage of the plant has died back, you will need to cut it back. Cut back the stems of mums to 3 to 4 inches above the ground.
With a little luck, your plants will survive the winter and bloom again next year.
“Growing Green” is contributed by Lehigh County Extension Office Staff and Master Gardeners. Information: Lehigh County Extension Office, 610-391-9840; Northampton County Extension Office, 610-746-1970.