Our expert’s late fall gardening tips include soil testing, more

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Editor’s Note: Throughout the growing season, Mike Hogan, OSU Extension Educator for Agriculture and Natural Resources in Franklin County, will answer gardening questions submitted by Dispatch readers. Send your questions to [email protected]

Q: Is it too late to test my soil this year? Some of the crops in my vegetable garden have not grown well this season and I wonder if soil fertility might be an issue.

A: Although soil can be tested for fertility and pH at any time of the year, fall is really the best time to do so. At this time of year, soil testing labs are not inundated with samples like they are in early spring, so test results are usually received from the lab very quickly.

Also, whatever crop is grown in the soil you want to test, the period has ended when most plants are actively growing and removing nutrients from the soil, so a soil test done at this time of year will provide a good understanding of where the nutrient levels are in the soil, which will be useful at the start of the growing season next spring.

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Also, if your soil test indicates a need for a high amount of phosphorus or potassium, fall is an excellent time to incorporate these fertilizers into the soil.

OSU Extension provides soil testing services and sampling kits can be purchased online or at OSU Extension’s Franklin County office at 2548 Carmack Road. For more information, go to: franklin.osu.edu/program-areas/agriculture-and-natural-resources/soil-testing

Q: I need to clean my perennial flower beds for the season and there are several plants in my beds that seem to have had leaf spot diseases late in the season. Should I incorporate the diseased plant material into my compost pile or throw this material in the trash.

A: The answer really depends on your composter business! If compost piles are managed properly, they heat up to about 150 degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature, pathogens and weed seeds are killed, so there would be no chance of spreading pathogens or weed seeds in the finished compost. However, maintaining a temperature of 150 degrees requires frequent turning of the compost pile and periodic addition of water if rainfall is not sufficient or the compost pile is covered. So if you actively manage your compost pile, feel free to add diseased plant matter, otherwise, dispose of diseased plant matter with your household trash.

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Q: I have a large collection of peonies and at the end of this season I noticed that many leaves of some plants had large dead brown spots on the leaves. Should I remove these plants, or will they recover next year?

A: It is common for peonies to be infected with peony leaf spot, especially as plants age and plantings become taller and thicker. This disease usually appears late in the growing season and usually occurs on plants that have an abundance of foliage. This disease does not usually cause long-term damage to the overall health of the plant, so there is no need to remove affected plants.

The best way to manage this disease in established plantings is to aggressively prune the foliage in late spring to increase air movement around the plants. This will help the plants dry out more quickly after rain, which will reduce the chances of disease developing. At this time of the season, you should remove all foliage from the peonies by cutting them 2 to 3 inches above ground level. Unless you are an active composter (see question above), I would throw diseased plant material in your household trash.

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