Now that October is here, we begin to prepare for Halloween, a day I personally enjoy. Pumpkins, spiders and fall flowers are all part of this festival. So I won’t miss the chance to help you with your holiday decorations and traditions.
Pumpkins can be used for so many things including carving, decoration, pies and many other food products. If planted later in the summer growing season, your pumpkins should just be maturing or have matured within the last couple of weeks. If you are unsure, pumpkins are mature when the rind is hard and can resist penetration from a fingernail.
Pumpkins do need to be harvested prior to a hard frost. They can be OK out on the vine for a light frost, but a hard frost will damage the pumpkin and can damage storage potential and more likely cause the pumpkins to rot. They should be cut off the vine. Do not cut the vine too close to the pumpkin; this can also cause the pumpkin to decay sooner.
If you didn’t grow the pumpkin yourself, check over the pumpkins you are purchasing. Look for good rind with no puncture wounds. Ensure that the pumpkin has a bit of stem attached to the top and choose the correct pumpkin for the use you have in mind for it. Pie pumpkins are best for baking while jack-o-lantern types will be better for carving and for decorations.
Spiders always come to mind at Halloween as a decoration and because they become a problem inside our homes with the cool fall weather. The most common spider that people bring into my office to be identified is the wolf spider. These are one of the largest species of spiders that we will find in Nebraska. They are quite hairy and often times will have 2 white or lighter brown colored stripes down the back. There are some wolf spiders that can be the size of a half dollar or more - legs and all. These spiders are not poisonous, but they can bite. Most often, a wolf spider will not bite us, but if they do, the reaction is usually similar to a large mosquito bite.
Spiders are actually beneficial but not often desired. They feed on other insects and pests that can move into our homes. The best way to control a spider population indoors is through habitat modification; meaning sealing up all cracks and crevices in your home foundation and around windows and doors to ensure that the spiders don’t move into your home. You can also use indoor/outdoor barrier sprays to spray around the foundation of your home and around the windows and doors to reduce spider populations inside your home. Also, sticky traps are a great way to manage spider populations indoors.
Mums are not the scary holiday tradition that spiders and pumpkins are, but they are a common decoration for the fall, including Halloween. Garden mums grow up to 18 inches tall and 30 inches wide and grow into a clump. The flowers are 2-3 inches across and can be found in many colors including white, yellow, orange, pink, purple, coral and deep burgundy red depending on the variety. Mums need to be pinched back in the early summer to help keep the plants to a compact and uniform size and shape and to help flowering. Pinching should be done two to three times in June. It should begin when the plants are 5-6 inches high and it should be discontinued around the Fourth of July.
Many gardeners struggle with maintaining their mum plants over the winter due to repeated freezing and thawing cycles through the growing season as well as wet, heavy soil or lack of snow cover. Longevity of the plants can be enhanced by planting them in a location that is more protected from north winds, discontinuing fertilization by the end of July to reduce new growth at the end of the season, adding several inches of mulch to the soil around the plants through the winter months and cutting the plants back in the spring rather than in the fall.