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Take note of garden successes, failures as season turns cold

Jessica Walliser
| Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate (Polygonum orientale) was a real show-stopper this year.
Jessica Walliser
Kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate (Polygonum orientale) was a real show-stopper this year.

As the growing season comes to a close, it's important for a gardener to assess the performance of the garden, making careful notes of what to grow again and what varieties to avoid in the future. While some failures and successes in the garden can certainly be attributed to whatever growing conditions nature provided, there is always much to be learned from what grew well and what didn't.

In my own garden, I was faced with many challenges this season, as were many other Western Pennsylvania gardeners. Our wet spring and summer created the perfect conditions for many fungal diseases. My garden fell victim to various pathogens, including powdery mildew, septoria leaf spot, strawberry fruit rot and even late blight, a fungal disease not frequently seen in our area. For the most part, these fungal diseases aren't destined to return again next year, especially if our spring and summer weather is a bit drier, but I will be careful to remove any diseased foliage from the garden this fall and dispose of it properly. The rest of the garden will stand through the winter to create habitat for beneficial insects and pollinators.

One particular deer proved to be another challenge in my garden this season. After many years of gardening with very little deer damage on our current property, a single doe has decided to hop the fence every night and dine in my garden. Though we've had deer find their way into the backyard from time to time over the years, this is the first time we've had one come religiously. She feasted on my patio containers, shrubs, perennials and vegetable garden. I had to become vigilant about using a deer repellent spray on all of our shrubs and ornamentals, applying it once every other week all season long. But, I couldn't use the repellent in the vegetable garden, of course, because I don't want my veggies to taste like rotten eggs, so I had to get creative and cover her favorite crops with a layer of deer netting or floating row cover. It worked, but the presence of hoof prints proves she still visits the garden nearly every night, probably hoping to find something uncovered.

Thankfully, the list of what did well in my garden this year is long. I had my best bean crop ever, thanks to an absolutely fantastic new-to-me variety of pole beans named “Musica.” The flat-podded, Romano-type beans were produced in stunning numbers on 6 foot tall vines. I grew them up an old closet organizer I converted into a trellis. I picked a load of beans every week all summer long, and even when the pods were over-ripe, they were still crisp and snappy and delicious.

Another success in this year's garden were my Brussels sprouts. Though I have yet to pick them (they grow sweeter in cold, frosty weather, so they'll stay in the garden until Thanksgiving), the stalks are 3 feet tall and loaded with sprouts. The cabbageworms feasted on some of the leaves, but it didn't slow their sprout production. The variety I grew is called “Igor,” and it's super winter hardy.

It was also an exceptional year for broccoli in my garden. Each year, I grow many “Express” broccoli plants and typically make my first harvest in late spring. But instead of ripping out the plants after the weather has warmed and I've harvested the primary head of broccoli, I let the plants continue to grow. This particular variety is exceptional at producing many delicious side shoots that are even more tender than the main head. I harvest these side shoots all summer long, even when the weather grows hot. Fall brings an even bigger flush of side shoots, and the plants will continue to produce until they're killed by winter's arrival.

And lastly, there were many flowers that performed quite well in my garden this season. The tall and gorgeous annual known as Kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate (Polygonum orientale) was a real show-stopper for me again this year. I grow them just by tossing some seeds into the ground in the spring, and the plants reach 8 feet in height and produce many long, pendulous clusters of bright pink flowers. And, they're a favorite of Japanese beetles, which might seem like a bad thing except when I grow this plant, I never have Japanese beetles on my blueberries or roses. They much prefer the Kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate, so I use it as a trap crop to dupe the beetles into leaving my other plants alone.

Other plants that really thrived in my garden this season were Mexican bush sage, a stunning zinnia called “Zowie! Yellow Flame,” and a fantastic, spiral-leaved begonia called “Escargo.”

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is jessicawalliser.com.

Send your gardening or landscaping questions to tribliving@tribweb.com or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.

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