It’s the middle of fall, and the weather certainly has not been typical. To say that this year’s weather has been different for gardeners may be an understatement. Summer annuals and even some perennials are still blooming even though cool-season annuals such as pansies have been planted for weeks. Regardless of the current or short-term weather, winter will be here soon and it is time to prepare the landscape. Here are some suggestions that will help the landscape transition be a little smoother:
• Plants in beds should have a sufficient mulch cover. Mulch is critical to retain heat and moisture for the roots of plants. If your mulch of choice is shredded hardwood or bark, a minimum depth is three inches. If you placed mulch in the spring and do not need to add mulch, it is a good idea to loosen the mulch with a rake. Loose mulch allows air and water to reach the roots of the plant, which is critical for plant health. Be sure to keep the mulch off of the plant stem or bark of the tree, which can trap moisture. Trapped moisture leads to decay and pest issues.
• Cover your vegetable garden with mulch or plant a cover crop. Straw mulch is less expensive than shredded hardwood and provides protection for the exposed soil in the garden. A mulch cover in the vegetable garden will reduce the number of annual weeds as well. Planting a cover crop such as winter rye or crimson clover also provides protection for garden soil and keeps the soil active through much of the winter.
• Fertilize your cool-season grass in the lawn. If you have a cool-season lawn, it is very likely the grass is tall fescue. Tall fescue needs nitrogen in order to provide the blade growth. A portion of the nitrogen comes from the organic matter in the soil. The remainder of the nitrogen needed comes from one or more applications of supplemental fertilizer. New grass, planted earlier in the fall especially, needs supplemental fertilizer. The green thumb garden rule is to apply fertilizer using the SON method: September, October, and November.
• Remove fallen leaves from grass areas. Leaves that are left for long periods of time prohibit sunlight from reaching the grass, which affects growth. Fallen leaves left for long periods also trap moisture, inviting disease. Remember, mowing the leaves in place is removal and will provide organic matter to the soil as the chopped leaves decompose.
• Prune dead branches from shrubs and trees. Dead branches are not flexible like living branches. Snow and ice loads on branches can cause breakage, especially on dead branches. Even though the branch is dead, proper pruning technique is still necessary for the plant to form callus tissue.
Get outside and enjoy the weather, and until next time, happy fall, y’all.