Q. Mike: I've heard that fall is the best time to plant strawberries if you want to have a decent yield next June. Is this true? What about planting garlic now as well? Thanks,
- ---Nancy; Jacobs Hill farm in central New York
Loosen up the soil well, enrich it with lots of high-quality compost, and then cover it with an inch or two of well-shredded leaves to prevent weeds and erosion. Rake that leaf mulch off early next March to allow the sun to warm the soil, put your baby berry plants in the ground as soon as it thaws and then reapply the mulch to prevent weeds.
Garlic, however, MUST be planted in the Fall; right now in fact, as garlic growers have learned that you get much better results if you plant when the kids go back to school. (You can wait a few weeks longer if you want to down South. If you live in a really warm region, talk to your extension agent first; some climates are just not good for garlic growing.)
But if you live where winter is real, garlic growing is easy and rewarding. Get some planting garlic from a mail-order supplier or local grower; or use store-bought if it's been organically grown. (Non-organic garlic may have been treated with sprouting inhibitors.) Separate out the individual cloves and plant them six inches apart in your richest, loosest soil; about three inches deep in warm to moderate climes; six inches in freezing cold ones. (That's the amount of soil that should go overtop of the buried cloves.)
The cloves will sprout this fall, sleep over winter, and then resume growth next Spring, producing a big bulb full of cloves from every clove you planted. Begin checking sample plants to see if your crop is ready to harvest when the bottom leaves start to turn brown, which is generally in late June, or right around the last day of school.
Q. Mike: You've pointed out that a component in pansies called rutin helps to mitigate the look of spider and varicose veins. Is there a commercial source of rutin? I know it's in pansy petals, but its tough on my image when the neighbors spot me down on all fours nibbling on their pansies. Maybe I could get away with it if I dress up like a dog and have my wife walk me through the neighborhood at dawn, but I'm hoping there is a pill I can buy instead. Thanks,
- ---Jim in Alexandria, VA
Anyway, yes—you'll find rutin in some nutritional supplements. As our very good buddy Dr. Jim Duke, retired USDA botanist and author of the best selling "Green Pharmacy" series of books explains, taking 100 milligrams daily will strengthen your capillary walls, making them more opaque and thus mitigating the effects of varicose and spider veins. But Dr. Duke strongly suggests you get your rutin from pansy flowers instead of a pill. Just five of the fabulously edible flowers a day (try sprinkling them overtop of your salads) supplies that helpful dose, and the synergistic effects you get from eating a whole food provide much greater potential benefit than an isolated extract.
And this is THE time to grow your own! Just buy a flat of pansies—nurseries and mail order suppliers carry these dramatically colorful flowers in the fall—and plant them in a nice sunny spot. They will bloom like mad until the weather gets bitterly cold, take a nap if and when it does, and then resume blooming in the Spring, producing fistfuls of those helpful blossoms until summer finally sends them to their eternal rest. (Pansies LOVE the cold, but burn up in the heat.)
If you live in a clime that gets snow and ice, cover the pansies loosely with some evergreen boughs before the first big storm to prevent their being crushed; this is a great way to recycle the limbs of cut Christmas trees.
Q. My local nursery is running a special on "mature" fruit trees. I am considering buying two plums in large plastic pots that the clerk says are five years old. Would it be all right to plant them now?
- ---Clark in Coopersburg, PA
- ---George in Cherry Hill, NJ
In the Fall, you're putting bigger, stronger plants into the ground after the heat stress season is over, and when rain is generally abundant without being ridiculous. By the time Spring arrives, they're acclimated to their new space, ready to actually use those April showers and almost a full year more prepared to endure that first scorching summer. (If the world were forced to make sense, Arbor Day would be in September!)
AND because nurseries would otherwise have to plant them in the ground for protection over the winter, you generally get great deals on big plants in the Fall. So if you were planning on putting new trees and/or shrubs into the ground next Spring, see if you can do it now instead. Both you and the plants will be much, much happier.