Fall cleanup tips to ensure a spectacular spring
There are lots of reasons to pay attention to the landscape before the full force of winter hits. First, the weather is cooler, making outdoor work more comfortable. The soil also is usually more evenly moist and easier to work than in spring. Here are some additional dos and don'ts to consider:
• Plant trees, shrubs and perennials, many of which will be marked down at the garden center. Do this before the ground freezes, a time that varies from mid- to late October in the upper Midwest to early December in the lower part of the region. Make sure to water these new plantings regularly before the lawn freezes.
• Don't fertilize new plantings or other plants in the landscape. Fertilizing now will spur new growth, which won't have a chance to acclimate before winter arrives, making plants susceptible to damage. It's all right to add a dusting of compost in the gardens as you clean up the beds.
• Plant spring-blooming bulbs. Ideally, the bulbs should have four to six weeks in the ground to form a root mass before the ground freezes. Water after planting.
• Don't prune spring blooming shrubs, such as lilac (Syringa), forsythia (Forsythia) and big-leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla). Pruning them now will remove next spring's flowers.
• Pull frost-damaged annuals from the garden and bring out the cool-season replacements, such as pansies (Viola x wittrockiana), snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus), nemesia (Nemesia), larkspur (Consolida ambigua) or ornamental cabbage and kale. Summer loving petunias (Petunia x hybrida) and mealycup sage (Salvia farinacea) are quite tolerant of cool weather and will carry their color into late fall.
• Cut back frost-damaged perennials, such as hosta (Hosta), daylilies (Hemerocallis) and hardy hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos). Any perennial that gets unattractive when cold weather hits can be cut back. Cut back perennials as close to the ground as possible.
• Some perennials, such as coneflowers (Echinacea), sedums (Sedum) and Japanese anemone (Anemone x hybrida), keep on giving all winter with attractive seed heads, which also feed finches, juncos and other birds that stay in the area.
• Fertilize the lawn one last time in late October in the northern Midwest and November in the lower region. This late dose helps the lawn green up earlier and reduces the need to fertilize in spring.
• Send established trees, shrubs and perennials into winter with a good soaking of water, especially if there has been little or no rain.
• Remove plant debris from garden beds, especially where there were infestations of insects or diseases. The fallen leaves, stems or seed heads harbor these problems and allow them to return next year.
• Mulch leaves with the mower or rake them from the lawn. Leaves, especially the large ones like maples and sycamores, can smother and kill the grass, and invite insects and diseases.
Sometimes known as the Hoosier Gardener, Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp lives in Indianapolis and is part owner and editor of Indiana Living Green magazine. Her work has also appeared in many other publications, including The American Gardener, Garden Gate and Greenhouse Grower. In addition, Meyers Sharp speaks about gardening and sustainable living throughout the Midwest and is a director of the Garden Writers Association.