Fall clean-up chores

Green Knees Newsletter     Vol. 2 #5     October 2010

Fall clean-up chores.

You can view the entire newsletter online and see other gardening articles at www.GreenKnees.net as well.

Sometimes it is just a relief when frost comes and we can finally put our hoes and rakes away for the season. Until then it is time to tidy things up. It will give the gardener a quicker start come springtime.

Weed control

Fall is the perfect time to get a grip on the weeds in the garden. Eliminate now and remove a problem for next season.

Do you haul out, burn, compost or spray? Your choice depends upon whether the plant has gone to seed. If it has, remove, burn it or send it off in a dumpster.

Weed seed will finish maturing and make viable seed if you don't take care of it properly. Composting, if done properly, should raise the temperature high enough to kill the seed. Many home composting programs fall short of this mark.

As long as there is not a 'No Burn' ban in effect in your county, burning is a viable alternative.

Spraying perennial weeds is ideal in the fall. The plants are storing carbohydrates for winter and will carry a herbicide to the root system quickly in late fall. Choose a day with temperatures above 50 F. degrees.

Fertilize lawn

Lawns do not need more than two fertilizations in a year. In fact, they will do well with only one, preferably in the fall. If you have a mulching lawn mower and drop the clippings, they will provide 90 percent of the nitrogen you lawn needs.

Many gardeners are reluctant to drop clippings for fear that it will cause thatch problems. Clippings do not cause thatch problems. It is over fertilization and watering that causes thatch.

If you fertilize late in the fall the fertilizer is there when the lawn wakes up next spring. Use a low nitrogen and high potassium combination in the fall.

Rake up leaves, or not

If you have trees with large leathery like leaves, you need to rake them and remove them, or shred them and add to your flower beds. Leaves like oak and maple can smother out small plants and grass if allowed to accumulate and remain through winter.

A walnut tree can cause real problems as well. This tree produces jugolone, a hormone that keeps other plants from growing near it, giving its offspring a better chance. Once the leaves are wet, it is like peeling up wet newspaper from the ground.

Deep water trees and shrubs

Water your evergreen trees until it freezes in the winter. If it is an open winter, you should water them in mid-winter as long as the water will soak in and not form an ice puddle.

With deciduous trees water until they drop their leaves. It is the same with shrubs as well.

Divide perennials

The rule of thumb for transplanting is to move spring blooming perennials in the fall, and fall blooming perennials in the spring. Most perennials need at least three weeks to settle into their new location before continuous freezing weather hits.

Amend the soil with compost, peat moss and a balanced fertilizer before transplanting.

Plant spring bulbs

If you plant tulips, bury them with their base at 9-inches. This will help keep them from splitting after the first blooming season into daughter bulbs too small to bloom. Daffodils should be planted at 10-inches.

Lift tender bulbs and corms for storage

Summer bulbs like Cannas, gladiolus, and dahlias should be lifted and stored before the end of October in a USDA Zone 5 climate.

Dahlias require being frozen to the ground before digging and storing. Rinse soil from bulbs and allow to dry before storing.

Cannas do not require packing materials like dahlias for survival over winter. Glads will do well being hung in an onion-like mesh bag.

Remove and destroy diseased plants

If you noticed a plant that is sickly, remove it and destroy it. Don't compost it, because the temperature may not rise high enough to do the job. Opt to not plant the same type of plant back into the area, because there may be enough residue to reinfect a similar plant.

Clean up debris and tools

Remove dirt and sap from tools. Use a wire brush on shovels and spading forks to remove soil. A piece of fine grit sandpaper will help smooth wooden handles. Use a soft cloth with linseed oil to moisturize the wood handles.

If gas is left in a gas tank over winter a lacquer-like film can develop and be difficult to clean out. Run gas out of all engines and change the oil. You'll be ahead of schedule when spring breaks next year.

Sharpen nippers, loppers, saws and blades now. You'll be ahead of next season's chores.

Hang up tools out of the weather and roll-up your hoses and make sure they are empty

Bring in tender plants

If you want to save your geraniums, move them indoors before hard frost eliminates them. Cut back the exhuberant growth and use the cuttings to start new plants. Cut back on water and fertilizer for the winter.Take cuttings of perennials and shrubs.

Turn compost pile

It is time to turn the compost pile before winter comes. Make sure you have the proper proportion of green to brown matter, one to ten. Also be sure to add water to the heap if you live in the West where it is dry.

Apply mulch

After the ground freezes, apply mulch around newly planted plants and over the areas where you planted bulbs. Mulch is used to keep the ground from thawing, not to keep it from freezing.

Apply wind protection around tender shrubs

If you live in windy country, do add wind protection by wrapping the shrubs in a covering of burlap. You may also want to tie some shrubs like Arborvitae up so that a snow load won't break them open. Japanese maples require burlap around their trunks for the first couple of years, particularly while young, due to their thin bark.

Plant Amaryllis

It is time to plan ahead for planting Amaryllis. For Thanksgiving bloom, plant in early October and for Christmas bloom, plant in late November. Keep them in a cool room out of direct light until they begin growing and water sparingly.

Plant early spring vegetables

Garlic and spinach are two vegetables that do well by planting in the fall for spring harvesting. You'll be the first on your block to have fresh vegetables.

Prepare your roses for winter

Allow roses to set hips as fall approaches. This sends a hormonal message to the shrub that it is time to prepare for winter. Stop your fertilization program in early August so that soft green wood has time to harden off before winter. Early October is a good time to take rose cuttings for rooting. Do not prune heavily in the fall. Shorten canes that are excessively long that may whip in the winter winds.

Begin planning your garden for next year

While your memory is fresh write down your gardening successes and failures. Look at your seed and plant invoices and list those that you hope to repeat. Add a list of new plants that you may have seen this season. If you plan to make a new bed or border start work on it this fall by either covering with cardboard, newspaper or black plastic to smother grass and weeds. It will be ready to plant next spring.


Check out the website for a list of catalogs. Many of them are free and will give you an opportunity to see what is new on the list for 2011.

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