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Knowledge to Grow by Karen Weiland - Fall Reminders

Mixed feelings abound this time of year for many of us gardeners. We are relieved to get a break from the work of pruning, watering, weeding and more weeding but we are also sad to see the end of our beautiful flowers and fresh produce. As I was in the garden yesterday working on clearing the last of my tomato plants, many other fall “things to get done” came into mind. Here are a few.

Evergreens are particularly susceptible to drying out over the winter. The above-ground parts, like twigs and leaves, are very much alive and are constantly losing water through a process called transpiration. When the ground is frozen the plants’ roots are not able to take up water to replace that which is lost through the tops. As a result the leaves, buds and twigs dry out. Fighting the winter battle will be made easier by making sure the plants have a sufficient supply of moisture before the ground freezes. Give your evergreens an extra drink.

Now is the time to purchase spring flowering bulbs for forcing. Forcing, which is the process of coaxing bulbs into thinking they have overwintered and are ready for spring, allows you to produce beautiful blossoms when you need them the most – during the drab days of winter. Hardy bulbs such as daffodils, tulips, crocuses and hyacinths are good choices for forcing. Mix together equal parts of peat moss, sand and garden soil. To ensure adequate drainage I like to cover the bottom of the pot with broken clay pot pieces. Add some of your soil mixture and place the bulbs into the pot according to the depth measurement on the package. Cover with soil mixture and water generously. The potted containers must be kept in a cool location, 40 to 50 degrees. A refrigerator will work. I keep mine in a cardboard box at the bottom of an outdoor basement entrance. When you see the roots peeking out of the bottom of the pot or growth at the top of the bulb, move them to a warm, sunny spot and enjoy!

This is also the time of year to put flower bulbs in the ground. Planting bulbs in September and October will allow time for the bulb to become rooted before freezing weather arrives.

Winter mulch is not critical for all garden plants, but it can mean survival for some of the less hardy ones. Winter mulch protects against wide temperature fluctuations in the soil and prevents extreme cold temperatures from harming plants. The soil has a tendency to heave when subjected to wide temperature changes, pushing the plant roots out of the ground. Shallow-rooted plants, such as strawberries and newly planted stock that have not had a chance to develop a solid root system, are most subjected to the heaving process. Using mulch such as bark chips, hay, pine needles or straw will give your plants protection. 2 to 4 inches should do the job. More protection is needed for some plants such as roses (see HO-128 Roses).

The sunny days of winter are a welcome sight to us humans, but they can cause trouble for some landscape plants such as young thin-barked trees. The bark tends to split vertically on the sunny side of the tree because as the temperatures quickly drop at sundown the outer bark cools down and contracts faster than the inner bark. Therefore the outer bark must split to accommodate what’s happening underneath it. You can protect the tree be wrapping the trunk with a commercial tree wrap. I like to use the black plastic, flexible drain pipe. Purchase the size that will fit around your tree plus an inch or two and the length you want to cover. Cut a slit in the length of the drain pipe and fit it around your tree. In the spring I take it off and save it for the next winter.

Apply fertilizer to the lawn. Fall fertilization helps to produce the healthiest turf with benefits lasting throughout the year.

Lastly, mulch those leaves. Layers of leaves can smother and kill the grass beneath it this fall and winter and contribute to disease.

As always, Happy Gardening!

The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co.