EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 17, 2007

'How can I get by green pumpkins to turn orange?'

By Great Gardening , Barbara Barger

Q: I planted pumpkins this year and have already harvested small to medium ones. I have a few large pumpkins still on the vine, but they are green. Will they turn orange soon or, if I pick them, will they become orange on my doorstep?

A: Pumpkins turn orange with warmth, sunlight and time. It's best if you can leave the green pumpkins on the vine and protect them. Remove all leaves that remain on the vine so that every ray of sunshine can reach the pumpkin.

If there is a frost warning, cover the pumpkins well with plastic, them remove the plastic promptly in the morning as the temperature rises so that condensation doesn't rot the pumpkins. If you really want to be safe, cover the pumpkins with newspaper or an old sheet or blanket first to absorb the moisture, then a layer of plastic, and weigh the plastic down with bricks or rocks so it doesn't blow off.

.If you choose to pick the green pumpkins, leave them out on the steps or a sunny dry deck during the day, turning the greenest side toward the sun. Bring them inside at night. You could also try ripening them indoors by a sunny window.

Whatever you do, they still might not be fully orange by Halloween, so be prepared to keep them around for your Thanksgiving doorway decorations. But use them whatever color they are, and be proud of having been a pumpkin farmer this year.

Q: I wonder if you can help with a terrible problem in our yard. Moss began replacing the grass on one side of my lawn last year and has now spread everywhere. We have tried spraying, but it hasn't helped..Would the trees in my yard cause the moss? What can I do to get rid of it?

A: .Moss isn't exactly taking over the lawn - it's filling in spots in the lawn where the grass can no longer grow because of one or more problems:

* It's become too shady, because trees have grown taller and become leafy and more dense over the years.and now shade out the sun. Grass needs sun to grow.

* It's too dry and the trees are competing for the little water they have in the area, and winning. When the grass loses, it dies and moss moves in.

* The soil is too acidic, which is corrected with applications of lime in the fall. Test the soil in the area. It's probably lacking in nutrients and needs some.additional fertilizer as well as lime. But don't guess - test.

* The area may be too compacted. Moss grows on anything, while grass needs to put down roots in softer soil. Aerate.the soil every few years, and try to keep repeated traffic, including food traffic, bikes and dogs, off the area. Temporarily fence the area, if necessary, to re-route.traffic.

This fall or next spring, use a moss control/remover in a spray form or pellets on the area. Once the moss has turned yellow or brown and died, rake it out, loosen the soil and patch the bare spots.with topsoil or compost. Reseed with a proper grass seed formulated for shady areas.

Dispose of the dead moss..Remember, moss is almost never dead. It's just dehydrated and hibernating, and it will sprout again at the drop of a gardener's hat if the conditions are right.

Corrections are needed if you want grass to grow in the area again. And fall is the perfect time to make lawn repairs.

Q: I have a hydrangea and an ordinary rugosa rose bush next to the foundation that are planted too close together. Both plants have a sentimental value. Which one would be better for an amateur gardener to move? And would you move it in the fall or spring?

A: If we could only control the weather, this would be easier. But at this time of the year, we just don't know what's coming. Anything you transplant in fall has to have time to put feeder roots out so it can survive the winter. It would be safer to move plants in the spring, particularly those with a sentimental value that you don't want to lose.

If you move the rose in early spring, it probably won't show any damage at all.

If you move the hydrangea in spring, you should also have little trouble, although you might sacrifice a few blooms the first year. Most hydrangeas have already formed their flower buds for next year, so don't prune it until flowering has finished next spring.

Q: My mother's garden has been decimated this year by some sort of critter. I appreciate your earlier recommendation for Shake-Away. Is it available locally?

Also, she has had a garden for many years, and while she rotates the crop planting, this year's crop.has been less than desirable. I think she should have the soil tested to see what nutrients she should add next year. Where can this be done on the North Shore?

A: ShakeAway is what we've been recommending for years for safe pest control. It is available at many garden centers in the area.

You are right that soil should be tested every few years. There are all types of soil testing kits available at garden centers in all price ranges.

But the UMass labs provide professional, thorough testing results and also offer suggestions for soil adjustments. I usually have the standard soil test done. Follow the directions for digging the samples and packaging carefully. Depending on the season, they're reasonably fast with results.

The price list is:

* Soil pH: Provides a simple soil pH test and an estimate of how much lime, sulfur or other additive is needed to correct soil pH, $4.

* Standard soil test: Provides pH, buffer pH, extractable nutrients, extractable heavy metals, cation exchange capacity, and percent base saturation, with recommendations for nutrient and pH adjustment, $9.

* Standard soil test with organic matter: Same as standard soil test plus a determination and interpretation of the percent organic matter in the soil, $13.

* Soil texture: Provides a determination of the USDA textural classification by combined hydrometer analysis of silts and clays and dry sieving of sands. Does not include the standard soil test, $50.

* Soluble salts: Provides a measure of electrical conductivity of a 1:2 (soil:water) extract, $3.

For more details, visit www.umass.edu/plsoils/soiltest/services1.htm or call the UMass Amherst labs at 413-545-2311.

This week's dirt: A caution while bulb planting - some people may experience an itchy reaction to hyacinth bulbs, so you may want to wear protective gardening gloves when handling them. Wash your hands thoroughly when done planting.


Great Gardening by Barbara Barger of Beverly is a regular feature of the Home North section. Reach Barbara by e-mail at nsgardener@comcast.net or write to her c/o Eagle Tribune Publishing Company, 100 Turnpike Street, North Andover, MA 01845.