It’s time to harvest the last small offerings of the vegetable garden and trade your watering can for a rake: fall is almost here. But the change to cooler weather doesn’t mean your yard-work chores are done for the year; taking care of a few key tasks now will help your yard and garden survive the winter and be ready for rejuvenation in the spring.
If your landscape plan includes a new tree or two, late summer to early fall is the time to get them in the ground. Not only do many nurseries and garden centers offer sales on shrubs and trees this time of year, but ground temperatures will remain warm enough to promote root growth for several more weeks. In areas that experience freezing temperatures the deadline for planting evergreens is late October and deciduous trees should be in the ground by mid-November or a few weeks before deep freezes are expected.
Major pruning should wait until trees go dormant in mid-winter, but fall is the perfect time to remove broken or damaged limbs that could be a hazard when winter winds begin to howl. Inspect your trees for potential problems.
Apply a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer to trees and shrubs to promote winter root growth and provide a good start in the spring.
It may seem counter-intuitive to fertilize grass as its growth begins to slow in the fall, but most lawns can benefit from a post-summer pick me up after all the heat and foot traffic summer brings. Prepare the lawn by raking up any tough thatch that might prevent fertilizer from reaching the lawn’s roots; water thoroughly the day before you plan to fertilize. For late summer-early fall fertilizing use a product that’s high in nitrogen, such as a 20-8-8 formula (but only apply nitrogen-rich fertilizer to grass that's already green). Follow up with a second fall treatment at the end of October or beginning of November using a 13-25-12 formula. The boost of phosphorous in late fall stimulates root growth and makes the lawn more drought- and disease-resistant.
And of course no fall-chore list would be complete without the general removal of spent plants, bulb planting, bulb dividing and planting a few fall annuals to freshen up the curb appeal. Exactly how long your honey-do list is depends on your growing zone and what types of plants are in your landscape. Getting the yard and garden ready for winter is no small task, but your hard work now will pay off when your plantings start strong and healthy next spring.
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