It’s time for a garden party by Bill Hayes

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The recent drop in temperature shows just how fast we can go from shorts and flip-flops to long pants and sweatshirts. The lawn and garden react in a similar manner. The first plants to show a reaction are the tropicals that have done so well in this hot summer. Hibiscus, Ixora, Mandevilla and other tropicals should come indoors when the nighttime temperatures reach 55¼F. If you leave them outside, they think winter is coming and they start to reduce the blooming process in order to store energy in the root system. If you leave them out too long, they will become former plants. Now, what can you do to learn more about taking care of your plants as they go into dormancy? The Master Gardeners can help!


The City of Aiken has joined forces with the Aiken Master Gardener Association and will present “Master Gardener Fall Education Day” at the Farmers Market on Saturday from 8 a.m. until noon. This event will coincide with the Aiken County Farmers Market Fall Festival. There will be gardening demonstrations including seed starting, composting, soil sampling, proper planting techniques, perennial dividing, shrub pruning, setting up planters for year round color, drip irrigation and plant propagation. I’m sure that there will be more by the time the event starts. Normally there are between 10 to 12 Master Gardeners on hand for these events but we expect 50 or more to be on hand for this exciting day.


Several other organizations will also be at the Farmers Market. The Central Savannah River Blue Bird Society, Beekeepers, Camellia Society, Silver Bluff Audubon Center & Sanctuary will all have booths with demonstrations and literature about their programs.


As usual, the regular vendors at the Farmers Market will be offering fruits, vegetables, honey, eggs, meat products, dairy, herbs and plants and just about anything else that is in season. They do a magnificent job during the growing seasons to provide the very best in quality products.


The city will set up tents for various organizations and will also have a specific tent and sound system for guest speakers. Long time Master Gardener the Rev. Jim Bennett will start the presentations at 9 a.m. Bennett will speak on “Winter Vegetable Gardening.” I will also ask Bennett to come up with a special prayer for rain.


At 10 a.m., a Master Gardener team will present “Fall is for Planting.” They will offer suggestions on how and where to plant the best specimens for our local area and talk about fall and winter garden tasks. Speaking of the best specimens, that wonderful fragrance that is working its way through Aiken is coming from our wonderful tea olives. Remember, they bloom in every month that has an “R” in it. So we will have blooms from now until April.


At 11 a.m., the final presentation will be “Preparing the Southern Lawn for Winter.” This program will try to dispel the myths about what we normally do to our lawns to keep them intact throughout the cool winter season. The speaker will be the same person who writes this column so be forewarned.


Many of our local businesses will be furnishing door prizes. They are: Aiken Dry Goods, Aiken Farm Supply, Argo Land Development, Birds and Butterflies, Carolina Eastern, Carolina Fresh Farms, Cold Creek Nursery, Home Depot, Layman’s Wholesale Nurseries, Lowes, Nurseries Caroliniana, Palmetto Nursery, Shady Characters Nursery, True Value Hardware (Laurens Street), Weeks Farm & Garden Supply and Woodlanders Nursery. The Master Gardeners will also have some prizes that will include some “Aiken Gardening Almanacs.”


Admission is free and we urge you to support the Aiken Farmers Market which has been in its present location for more than 55 years. This event is intended to be both educational and fun for everyone. We hope that you will join us throughout the morning, and I may not ask Jim Bennett for that rain prayer until this event is over. This will be the final “Meet a Master Gardener” day for 2011 so if you have any gardening questions, this is your last opportunity to see us at the Farmers Market until next year.


It is getting close to the time when we think about changing our seasonal annuals. Many of our summer plants are showing signs of stress from a lack of water or nutrients. Pansies and violas need a head start to develop a strong root system before the cold weather sets in. Most experts tell us to have them planted by Oct. 15 to assure a strong, cold resistant plant. Snapdragons will also do well in our climate zone but don’t expect much until the weather turns a little warmer. These pansy, viola and dianthus varieties flowered right through the grayest winter days: “Clear Sky Primrose,” “Baby Bingo Denim” and “Wink Red and Yellow” pansies; “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” and Sorbet and Velour series violas; and “First Love” and “Ideal Rose” dianthus.


See you at the Farmers Market.