Upper South

August, 2011
Regional Report

Preserve Hydrangeas

Hydrangea flowers are not only wonderful in the garden, but are also a great addition for decorating your home. Certainly, you can use them in fresh arrangements, but they're especially useful when dried. Cut the stems from plants when the petals feel somewhere between papery and leathery. Strip off the leaves and air-dry by simply placing the stems upright in a vase or jar. Place in a warm, airy place out of direct sunlight. Another way to air-dry is by hanging the stems upside down. Varieties of Hydrangea paniculata are the easiest to dry.

Sow Self-Sowing Annuals

Many of the most favored of old-fashioned annuals readily self-sow, including spider flower, love-in-a-mist, cornflower, California poppy, coreopsis, cosmos, flax, gloriosa daisy, hyacinth bean, larkspur, nasturtium, cypress vine, calendula, tall verbena, nicotiana, four-o-clocks, and morning glory. You can let the seeds fall to the ground, increasing the plants in a single area, or you can collect them when they dry and plant them in different areas of your garden. Conversely, to prevent them from becoming a pest, cut off the seed heads before they mature.

Divide Peonies

Peonies generally thrive for years in the same location, but if your plants are beginning to only have a few blooms, it indicates that the plants are becoming overcrowded and will benefit from division. Late summer and early fall is the best time for this process. Dig up the plant, keeping as many roots as possible. Gently spray the roots with a hose to remove as much soil as possible. Using a sharp knife, remove old, woody, or rotted portions, then divide the roots into sections with three to five "eyes," or reddish buds. Replant each section in a sunny location with well-drained soil, placing the eyes 2 inches below the soil surface.

Try Asian Turnips

Many people grew up thinking of turnips as large, purple-and-white roots that are best when cooked, but there are other varieties that are great used fresh in salads (although they can also be cooked, if desired). These have a mild, sweet flavor and grow quickly, usually ready to harvest in 6 to 8 weeks, meaning there is still time to plant them for harvest this fall. Among the best varieties to consider include Hakurei, Oasis, Sweet Scarlet Ball, Red Milan, White Milan, Tokyo Cross, and Snowball.

Know When to Pick Pears

Most varieties of pears that are allowed to ripen on the tree will develop a coarse, mealy texture and have core breakdown. Pears are best picked when slightly immature, then brought to full ripening off the tree. The general rule-of-thumb to tell if a pear is ready to pick is that, while still on the tree, if the pear is lifted to a horizontal position, it will readily detach. The main exception are Bosc pears, which are difficult to separate from the fruiting spur on the tree. Put the picked pears in the refrigerator, then bring to room temperature for several days. A pear is ripened to perfection when thumb pressure just below the point where the stem joins the fruit yields evenly to gentle pressure.

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