What to do this week: Start seeds of fall vegetables such as broccoli, mustard greens, parsnip, turnips, peas, radishes, Chinese cabbage, beets, chard, spinach, and lettuce for a fall harvest. Biennial flowers such as hollyhocks, foxgloves, wallflowers, and columbine can be purchased or seeded for next year. Hanging baskets require daily watering with a long-handled wand. If the planting medium dries out and becomes too hard to absorb water, take your baskets down and immerse the entire pot in water spiked with fertilizer. Ruthlessly cut back petunias and other straggly annuals, leaving only the leaves to renew flowering.
Q. I am writing for help in identifying lawn mushrooms and advice on how to eliminate them. Last summer we had a landscaper raise the grade in front of our home by 3 or 4 inches. We have mushrooms growing everywhere he put the new soil. We have lived here for 11 years and have owned the property for 23. We have never had these before. The lawn gets sun for at least eight hours.
DEBBIE OSBORNE, Essex
A. Any time you buy supposed top soil, especially if it arrives loose in the back of a truck, you take a chance it will introduce organisms you don’t want in your yard. There are worse things than mushrooms. A few years back I ended up with equisetum (a.k.a. “horsetail’’), a devilish spreading weed that arrived in a load of landscaper’s soil, and that I will spend the rest of my life battling. Don’t bother fighting your mushrooms, however. They are the brief flowers of a subterranean fungus that came in with your new soil. Just mow the mushrooms along with your lawn. This will not affect the underground fungus anymore than picking apples affects the tree. But we are only beginning to understand how some fungi promote healthy soil, so they may actually be benefiting your lawn. Trying to poison them would certainly be bad for your lawn and your soil.
Q. My blueberry bushes were covered with green berries, and then they started to disappear. Within a week they were gone. I’ve never had one ripe berry, hence my frustration. I take some solace after hearing that Michelle Obama spoke about how productive her garden was at the White House except for trying to grow blueberries. She blamed birds. I constructed a 6-foot-by-40-inch frame using metal conduit, attached hard-plastic fencing with ½-inch openings, draped netting over the bushes, and secured it to the fencing with twist ties. This arrangement worked great for a few years, but last year the chipmunks discovered the berries and won the war.
WAYNE KIVI, Cape Cod
A. This is the first year I have gotten blueberries from my eight 30-year-old bushes. I think it was a record crop, so the birds couldn’t choke them all down. An owner at a pick-your-own farm said he fires off a carbide air cannon to startle the birds. Most farmers report using sight and sound deterrents such as reflecting plastic windmills and giant predator eyes. Another farmer said he just plants more bushes than the birds can eat. I don’t have room for hundreds of bushes, and the neighbors wouldn’t like cannon noise, so like you and Michelle, I’m resigned to running a catbird cafe. The fall foliage is beautiful.