Archive for Thursday, October 4, 2007

Autumn prep helps spring gardens grow

October 4, 2007


Toward the end of the summer heat, I begin neglecting my own garden. More weeds grow, fewer flowers get deadheaded, and I daydream about rain instead of water hoses. Now, cooler days and nights mean it is time to clean up the garden and prepare for next year.

Most plants don't need any special care in the fall. Here are the things you really should do to help your plants flourish for seasons to come.

All yards and gardens

¢ Rake and mulch leaves when they accumulate. Although leaves can provide some protection to plants, too many of them can smother your lawn and perennial flowers. Leaves piled around the base of shrubs hold moisture against the plant, which could cause root or crown rots.

¢ Lightly mulch around tender plants to protect the crowns.

¢ Clean soil from tools before storing to prevent rust. Apply oil or a spray lubricant to metal parts.

¢ Service lawnmowers and other power equipment. Drain fuel or use a fuel stabilizer.

Vegetable gardens

¢ Remove and discard tomato plants when they are finished producing. Tomatoes that are still green at first frost can be brought inside and will ripen in a few days. Don't put the plants in the compost pile if there is any sign of leaf spots or other fungi; the diseases can overwinter in the pile.

¢ Add compost or other organic matter and till it into the soil.

¢ Plant a cover crop such as annual ryegrass. Freezing temperatures will kill the grass, and it can be tilled back into the garden to provide nitrogen for next year.

¢ Remove and discard any other plants that have shown signs of insects or disease to help keep these out of the garden next year.

¢ Landscape beds and flower gardens

¢ Do not prune shrubs or trees until after a freeze. Shrubs especially may try to put on growth, which will not have time to "harden off" or prepare itself for winter.

¢ Cut back peonies and irises to the ground and discard the foliage.

¢ Dig and store cannas, gladioli and dahlias.

¢ Roses

¢ Remove and discard leaves infected with black spot. This disease can overwinter in fallen leaves.

¢ After freezing temperatures, prune long canes to 24-36 inches. This prevents the canes from being caught by harsh winter winds, which could break the canes at the ground.

¢ Also after temperatures drop, mulch the crown of hybrid tea roses and climbing roses. Pile soil, compost, chopped leaves or wood chips about 12 inches deep right around the base of the plant. Most landscape or shrub roses, such as Knockout, are more cold-hardy and do not need this extra protection.


¢ Keep newly seeded lawns watered until freezing temperatures arrive.

¢ Apply a quick-release (water-soluble) fertilizer to fescue lawns in November. The fertilizer should be high in nitrogen and contain little or no phosphorus and potassium.

Fruit trees

¢ Discard fruit left on the ground or in the tree. Leftover produce can harbor fungi and bacteria, which cause disease.

¢ Prune after a freeze to promote good branch structure. "Pruning Fruit Trees," a publication from K-State Research and Extension, is available at the Douglas County Extension Office, 2110 Harper St., or online at Do a search for "pruning fruit trees."

Water gardens

¢ Remove fallen leaves daily.

¢ If your garden has a waterfall, you may not want to keep this running over the winter. You can disconnect the pump from the hose that goes to the waterfall and use that pump to run within the pond, or remove the pump and use a smaller bubbler pump to keep the water moving.

¢ Move water plants that are on shelves, or higher areas in the pond, to the deepest part of the pond.

¢ Remove annual water plants that die with freezing temperatures.

Container gardens

Clean up and store clay and ceramic pots inside to prevent freezing and cracking. If you choose to leave the pots outside with soil in them, wrap thin foam insulation around the pots for protection.

Following these steps will help make your garden the best it can be for years to come. Rest and rejuvenate yourself this winter, and don't forget to start planning for next year.

- Jennifer Smith is the Douglas County Extension AgentHorticulture for K-State Research & Extension. She can be reached at 843-7058 or


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