Work on fall to-do list before it’s too late

Some folks think raking leaves and winterizing their sprinkler systems are the only fall garden chores.

Oh, but there’s so much more to do this time of year.

Performing a few tasks before the killing frosts set in can save you a heap of trouble in the spring, and also set your yard up for a successful spring.

Here are a few things you might consider putting on your “to-do” list while the weather is still beautiful and you don’t mind being outside.

FERTILIZE THE LAWN

Fertilizing in the fall gives your lawn a head start on spring and helps it green up fast, without all the extra mowing that comes with fertilizing your lawn in the spring.

Colorado State University Extension recommends a cool-temperature active fertilizer such as urea, dehydrated poultry waste or ammonium sulfate for this application. The recommended application rate is one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of lawn, for bluegrass sand fescue mixes (what most people around here have).

The last time you mow this season, leave the clippings on the lawn to mulch back into the turf. According to Colorado State University Extension, this is a great way to add a slow-release nitrogen back to the plant, as it recycles about one-third of the nitrogen back to the grass.

If you have a lawn that you’re rehabilitating, consider aerating now as well as in the spring. Applying some fine compost or top dressing after core aeration can help you ensure a healthier lawn in the springtime, and discourage compaction of the lawn and a more robust root system that is more drought-tolerant in the long run.

Make sure to do this soon, to allow for at least one more deep watering of the lawn before winterizing your sprinkler system. It doesn’t do any good to wait until the lawn is dormant and brown to perform these tasks.

 

CLEAN UP THE GARDEN

Maybe you’re sick of the garden and just don’t want to look at those fungus-ridden vines that the squash bugs obliterated. But if you don’t get them out of the garden, they could harbor more problems for you next year.

Pests such as squash bugs and fungus spores can hide out in infected litter and resurface with a vengeance. The same goes for any blighted tomato plants. In general, if something didn’t look quite right at the end of the season, I toss it in the trash and get it out of the yard. I don’t even trust my compost pile to finish it off, because I’m not that detailed about composting, and I’m not making sure the pile reaches 140-degree temperatures that would kill the problems.

However, I do save leaves, and I use them to mulch perennial beds, rhubarb and some plants that were recently planted or shrubs and trees that aren’t quite established yet. These leaves will eventually decompose and help add organic matter to the soil, after they help the plants retain moisture and provide a little insulation over the winter.

 

MAKE SOME NOTES

What grew well this year? Where did you plant your tomatoes? Sure, you think you’ll remember where everything was located six months from now, but you probably won’t.

Keeping a garden journal can be as simple as a few notes each year about varieties that performed well, problems you had or ideas for next season. It helps you from making the same mistakes.

It also can help you rotate crops — planting tomatoes in the same place every year just invites disease. Taking time to reflect on this year’s successes and problems will only give you a head start on next year’s bounty.

Erin McIntyre is an advanced master gardener and journalist who hosts “Diggin’ the Garden,” the second Wednesday of every month at noon on KAFM 88.1. Email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) with story ideas or feedback.


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