Fall Garden Planting
Tips on preparing your garden for a long winter season.
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In many areas of the country, fall is one of the most important seasons for gardeners. Master gardener Paul James shares tips to get your garden ready for the winter.
Plant trees and shrubs. Fall is a great time for planting many deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs. Ideally, you should plant evergreens roughly six weeks before the first hard freeze, but deciduous plants can be planted anytime, even during the winter months, as long as the ground isn't frozen. James plants some interesting evergreens in his Oklahoma garden.
- Hardy to USDA Zone 3, this contorted needled evergreen is a Jack pine called 'Uncle Fogy' (Pinus banksiana 'Uncle Fogy') (figure A). It was discovered in Minnesota, and no two are alike.
If you're in the market for something deciduous, fall is the perfect time to decide what to plant. After all, you need only take a walk or drive to discover which trees and shrubs offer the most in terms of fall color. Beyond the shade they offer in summer, fall color is the most alluring attribute of many deciduous trees and shrubs.
With the trend toward smaller yards, there's a need for small trees with interesting features. One of James' favorites is the full moon Japanese maple (Acer japonicum 'Aconitifolium') (figure E). Hardy to Zone 5, this tree grows to about 25 feet tall, and its leaves turn from green to a stunning reddish orange in the fall.
Fertilize the lawn. If you can afford to fertilize only once a year, fall is the best time to do so. The reason is simple: Turf grasses have the ability to store food during the winter months which, in turn, helps it to rebound in spring. Again, it's best to get the job done several weeks before the first hard freeze.
For the rest of your landscape plants, however, fall isn't the time for fertilizer. "The last thing you want to do is encourage new growth just before freezing temperatures arrive," says James.
Rake leaves. It's best to rake leaves off cool-season fescue lawns because large leaves in particular will mat down and damage the turf. However, most other turf grasses can handle the weight of the leaves.
You can also rake or blow leaves into garden beds adjacent to the lawn, and allow them to serve both as a winter mulch and soil amendment. Or, compost the leaves in a pile and within several months to a year you'll be rewarded with the greatest soil amendment money can't buy.
Keep plants watered. "One of the most important things to keep in mind this time of year is that landscape plants still need to be watered," says James.
That's especially true of evergreens, which continue to grow, albeit at a slower pace, throughout the fall and winter. Of course, moisture is often more plentiful this time of year, but that's not always the case. "Here in my little corner of the world, for example, we're fully 12 inches behind in rainfall," says James.
Dry cold is one of the harshest conditions plants can experience. So on those days when the temperature is above freezing, make sure you water all your landscape plants, giving them a thorough soaking. When you're done, remember to disconnect the hose from the faucet to prevent freezing, which can lead to pipes bursting.
Do a mulch check. In the fall, pull mulch away from the base of plants to prevent water from sitting there, potentially causing rot. This is especially important in the case of woody plants, because it will discourage hungry rodents from burrowing under the mulch and chewing on the bark.
Take care of garden tools. Put a light coating of oil on the metal surfaces of your gardening tools and rub boiled linseed oil on wooden handles. Consider having your lawn mower serviced and the blade sharpened. Remember to run it until it's out of gas before storing it for the winter. Gas that remains in the tank can gum up engine parts and make the mower difficult, if not impossible, to start next spring.
There are plenty of things to do in the garden this time of year, and getting them done before winter comes will give you a great sense of accomplishment.
One of the key ingredients to fall-planting success is the temperature of the soil. And that's just for starters.