Dear Helen: To my surprise and delight, my Brussels sprouts plants have grown into wonderfully sturdy specimens but with just tiny dots along the stems that I presume will develop into sprouts. Do the plants need any special care to encourage that process? A neighbour has suggested they need some kind of pruning.
Pinching out or cutting away the top tuft of leaves this month helps to hasten sprout development and will encourage the last, uppermost sprouts to fill out well. I usually do this at some point between mid and late September. The loose, cabbage-like balls of top growth are a treat trimmed, steamed tender-crisp, and served with butter and salt.
Consider also mulching under and around the plants with compost, pressed down well, to further aid the full formation of sprouts along the plant stems.
Dear Helen: My Swiss chard grew in great abundance this summer. My problem: What to do with the long, thick stems. I chop them like celery into green salads and use them in soups and stews. Can you suggest other uses?
Chard stems are flavourful, and useful in any dish, such as tuna or egg salad, where a bit of crunch is desired. The stems as well as the leaves can be used in recipes calling for chard, unless the recipe specifies leaves only.
The stems on their own are a good cooked vegetable, chopped and either steamed or sauted tender-crisp.
Dear Helen: We have a problem with an Aucuba growing in a large pot. Many of the leaves develop blackened areas. The plant does not die, and produces new crops of leaves. How can we avoid the unsightly blackening?
The usual reason for blackened areas developing on Aucuba leaves is a soil wet enough to cause significant root stress and some rotting. Aucubas need a well-drained soil. A tight-textured, heavy soil that is watered regularly could well hold on to excess moisture, enough to stress the roots and cause leaf damage.
Check soil moisture levels and cut back on watering if necessary. Water only when the upper soil layers have dried. Remove blackened foliage and shoots. If the soil seems compacted, try loosening the surface a little and apply a light mulching with a nourishing, non-compacting compost. Keep the mulch away from the base of the plant.
Dear Helen: I have a large and damaging population of snails in my garden. Beer traps have not worked.
Keeping the soil surface as dry as possible helps to deter snails and slugs, which need moisture to move around freely. Water in the morning to allow the soil surface to dry during the day.
Consider laying boards or pieces of cardboard on the soil near plantings that are being damaged. Gather the under-cover pests in the morning and dispose of them with several hours in a freezer or in a pail of soapy water.
You might also wish to use iron-based slug and snail baits.
Dear Helen: I’m uncertain about the best time to empty out some of my containers filled with summer flowers and replant them with cold hardy plants for interest during the fall and winter. How do you decide on the right timing?
At about this point in September I begin considering the state of my summer container displays as I also assess the weather. Meanwhile, I start ambling through garden centres to pick up plants I want for a fall and winter container garden.
My mainstay plants, because they give such a long season of almost maintenance-free bloom, are pansies and violas. Early in the month I saw beautiful transplants in one of my local garden centres, but the weather was still too hot and sunny for planting flowers that prefer cool conditions.
Now, as daytime temperatures are no longer likely to rise above 20 C, I’ll start the transition from summer to fall and winter plants. My petunias and mixed summer flower container plantings are starting to look just about bedraggled enough to merit a quiet rest in a compost heap.
Though container displays of suitable plants can be put together well into next month, my preference is to set up winter containers early enough, in the latter part of September and in early October, for the plants to easily develop roust root systems before the cold weather.