Thursday, October 7, 2010

Put Your Garden To Bed And You'll Rest Better, Too.

When fall arrives, many gardeners are tempted to put off until spring what they should do today. Yield not to temptation. Necessary chores completed in a timely fashion will save time and labor, and give you a sense of satisfaction.  In other words, put your garden to bed and you'll rest better, too.

Before you begin your winter hibernation, complete these garden tasks:

Tidy up. Dead plants and garden debris provide shelter for insect pests and the four-footed varieties. Not only that, decaying plants also harbor fungi and plant diseases. But don't carry the debris street-side for trash collectors; compost it. Composting turns it into rich, organic material for next year's garden.
Most of us have childhood memories of Saturday afternoons raking up large piles of fallen foliage and jumping into them. Then the leaves were raked again and carted off to the curb. But there are better alternatives. If you insist upon a well-groomed lawn, collect the leaves and compost them. However, I prefer leaving them on the lawn and chopping them to bits with my lawnmower. A mulching attachment will reduce them to pieces small enough that they will filter into the grass, self-compost, and add to the organic content of your lawn. In fact, a mulching mower used all year long will return grass clippings to the lawn with the same result.

Prune. Pruning includes dead-heading your perennials. When bloom-time is over, many plants become unsightly. Dead-heading will improve the appearance of your garden and remove unwanted seeds. Furthermore, you will be making room for new spring growth, especially if you have interplanted with spring-blooming flower bulbs. If pruning trees or shrubs in autumn, only remove dead or dying tissue. Heavy pruning may stimulate new growth at a time when you need it least. New growth late in the year can be severely damaged by cold and compromise the health of your plants.

Fertilize. Fall fertilizing is done for different reasons than spring fertilizing. In spring, the object is to stimulate new top growth for lush foliage and abundant bloom. Fall fertilizing, however, is to stimulate root growth. Plants must have a good foundation to build upon next spring. Whether fertilizing lawn, garden, shrubs or trees, the purpose is the same. Fertilizers for fall application are formulated differently than those for spring. Nitrogen (N) content will be lower or in a slow-release form. Phosphorus (P) and potash (K) will be at relatively higher levels. When reading fertilizer formulations, know that the order is N-P-K. In addition to granular fertilizers, other organic additions may include compost and bone meal.

Plant flower bulbs. Many of us think of planting fall bulbs when we see crocuses, daffodils and tulips popping up in the spring. Too late! Fall is the time to plant those, so don't delay. It's best to plan your spring-flowering bulb purchases in July, order in August or September, and plant in September or October. But planting in October or November is still not too late. Be sure to buy high-quality bulbs in larger sizes. Larger bulbs produce more flowers sooner. Typically, discounters and big box stores carry smaller bulbs because they want to offer the lowest prices. You get what you pay for. Sometimes you don't even get what you pay for, so buy from a reputable source.

By the arrival of spring, gardeners can't wait to get into their gardens. What a disappointment to be faced with garden chores from fall still waiting. Get into your garden now while the air is clear and the temperature brisk. You'll enjoy it, feel better having done it, and your garden will be in better condition come spring.

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