Fall comes to the garden

GREENFIELD — There are a thousand and one signs that summer is relinquishing its hold and fall is gaining ground. Many of these signs — sights, sounds and smells — can be seen right in our home gardens and landscapes. Here are just a few:

The perennial Maximilian sunflower, a member of the aster family, is now in full bloom. Its multiple bright yellow flowers grow on stalks of 3 to 10 feet. Maximilian sunflower requires full sun, and it does well in a number of different soil conditions.

Black walnut trees are not known for their fall color display and can begin dropping leaves in the mid to late summer as a response to drought conditions or anthracnose. The large round green fruit is dropping now. The “nut” is surrounded by a thick outer husk that is green when immature and yellow to black (and prone to staining anything it touches) when ripe.

Increasingly seen as just as Halloween decorations, pumpkins have been grown as a food crop for livestock and people for centuries. In fact, most pumpkins produced in the United States are still used for processing.

Pie pumpkins are usually smaller than field or carving pumpkins. Fruit is ripe when it achieves a clear orange color and the skin is firm. Pumpkins can be stored in a cool dry area for several months. Pie pumpkins are selected for their thick, relatively dry fruit and higher sugar content — not for their size or “carveability.”

Jimson weed, otherwise known as devil’s apple or devil’s trumpet, is a summer annual that matures at this time of the year. Plants have large wavy, toothed leaves. Flowers are white or purplish, funnel-shaped, odorous and approximately 3 inches long. The entire plant is poisonous, especially the leaves and seeds.

Yellow-jacket populations have probably now reached their zenith for the year, resulting in maximal activity in and out of the colony. This is the time of the year when these insects switch from a high-protein diet (e.g., caterpillars, sawfly larvae, etc.) to a high carbohydrate diet (e.g., doughnuts, soda, fermented adult beverages, etc.).

To reduce some of the negative yellow-jackets and humans interactions, try to keep young children wiped clean of any sugary substance, avoid drinking sugary drinks directly from opaque containers such as soft drink cans (use a straw, empty trash containers, and wash away spilled fluids as soon as possible). Yellow-jacket nests die out in the winter and do not return.

Most if not all of the common bagworm caterpillars have finished their feeding, tied their bags to branches of their host plants and pupated within their bags, and adult males are now emerging. While we are beyond the time for any kind of insecticide treatment, hand-picking and destroying the bags to eliminate the overwintering eggs is still a good idea.

Foraging of skunks (digging) and moles (tunneling) in lawns tend to peak in spring and fall when the ground is easiest to tunnel through.

There are several models of traps available, and all work well if set correctly, used during the right time of year and placed in an active feeding tunnel.

Skunks typically leave behind 3- to 4-inch diameter cone-shaped holes in turf and gardens as they dig for insects and other invertebrates. Techniques for resolving skunk issues are available, including home remedies for “deodorizing” that unfortunate pet that has encountered a visiting skunk.

Increased skunk and raccoon activity, especially when coupled with the appearance of brown patches of lawn, might be a strong indication of grub damage.

If grubs are present to the point that they are damaging the roots, browning of the turf grass and some peeling away of thatch from the soil below, like a layer of carpet, would be common. The C-shaped white grubs are found lying on the newly exposed soil surface. If the turf grass wilts easily, control could be necessary.

This late in the season, the control is limited to a few “rescue” grubicides. Contact insecticides such as trichlorfon (Dylox) kill the grubs if the soil is moist and the product is irrigated through the thatch zone.

Fall is here! It is an amazing time of sights, sounds and smells. I hope that you will make the time to enjoy them all.