Fall landscaping and garden chores

Tony Nye - OSU Extension

I think we are finally finished with summer, as it looks like much cooler temperatures will continue in the coming days/weeks.

With cooler temperatures, fall colors, and OSU football, this is my favorite time of year.

The weather has been almost perfect for area farmers to harvest crops — a much different picture than a year ago when it seemed it would never end.

We have a long way to go but the near future looks very good for harvest to continue. Yield reports continue to be good for many of our fields for both corn and soybeans. Maybe not record, bin-busting yields, but yet very good yields for the type of planting and growing season we started the year with.

As the farmers continue with harvest, home owners should be taking advantage of the nice fall weather to manage their landscapes before winter gets here.

Many of our landscapes have been stressed the last few years because of weather related issues and proper care should be taken to help our landscapes survive the winter with limited stress.

We have been dealing with very dry conditions over the last several weeks and many of our trees, lawns, and perennial gardens have suffered because of the dry weather as well as record high temperatures just recently in September.

Listed are some things one should consider before winter arrives for woody ornamental landscape plants and tree fruits:

Mulching will help protect against large fluctuations in soil temperature and moisture.

Be sure to stake or guy-wire tall plants to protect them from strong winds.

Do not be alarmed if your evergreens, (white pine and arborvitae), drop some of their older needles. All evergreens shed needles at some time, but not all at once as deciduous plants do.

Harvest apples when flavor is sweet but before fruits soften. Harvest pears when the dots on the skin begin to turn brown. Pears are best ripened to yellow off the tree.

Clean up fallen fruits, twigs, and leaves around apple (including crabapple) and other fruit trees to reduce disease and insect carry-over.

Water, water, water! As dry as we have been this is very important to continue until the ground freezes.

In November or December, protect rose bushes by mounding soil up 12 inches around the plants and adding mulch on top. Wait until after several killing frosts have occurred so that plants will be dormant when covered. Plants covered too early may be smothered.

For our lawns we can continue to mow but be sure to maintain a 2 to 2 1/2-inch height, removing no more than 1/3 of the height of the grass at any one time. We probably still have a little time on our side to de-thatch our lawns.

As leaves fall, rake the fallen leaves from lawn, particularly larger-sized leaves, such as maple and sycamore leaves; they can smother the lawn as they become wet and mat down.

As we get into November we may even consider a very late application of fertilizer. Late fall fertilizing can help keep the lawn green longer and boost early spring recovery.

Although top growth stops when air temperature drops to 45 to 50˚F, roots remain active as long as soil temperatures remain above 35-40˚F. Apply 1 pound actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of lawn.

For our vegetable gardens that will be exposed to the elements, enjoy as long as you can, keeping harvests current. To prolong possible harvest, cover gardens to protect form killing frosts and continue watering.

For our flowers, there is still a little time to plant spring-flowering bulbs beginning in late September. Planting too early can cause bulbs to sprout top growth before winter. Just keep in mind we need to allow at least four to six weeks before the ground freezes for good root formation.

Dig and store tender garden flowers for winter storage such as gladiolus corms, caladiums, geraniums, and tuberous begonias. Many of these types of flowers should be lifted before killing frost. Dig canna and dahlia roots after a heavy frost. Allow to air dry before packing in dry peat moss or vermiculite, and store in a cool location.

Harvest root crops and store in a cold (32˚F), humid location. Storing produce in perforated plastic bags to increase humidity.

Harvest pumpkins and winter squash when rind is hard and fully colored but before frost. Store in a cool location until ready to use.

Harvest gourds when stems begin to brown and dry. Cure at 70 to 80˚F for two to four weeks.

Asparagus top growth should not be removed until foliage yellows. Let foliage stand over the winter to collect snow for insulation and moisture.

Remove plant debris from the garden to protect next year’s planting from insect and disease build-up.

And finally a few items to consider as we move into November. We should take soils tests at this time of year to determine fertilizer needs but remember we only need to do this every two or three years.

We might consider fall tillage if erosion is not a problem. This can help improve soil structure and will help soil warm up faster in the spring.

So, as you can see, once the lawnmower is put up for the year, there is still plenty to be doing in your lawns, gardens and landscapes.

Tony Nye is the state coordinator for the Ohio State University Extension Small Farm Program and has been an OSU Extension Educator for agriculture and natural resources for over 30 years, currently serving Clinton County and the Miami Valley EERA.


Tony Nye

OSU Extension