Fall season provides plenty to do in the garden

I grew up in an area that had four seasons. Each one seemed to politely ease its way out and make way for the next, seemingly following the dates on the calendar when this should happen.

When I moved here, I was happy that I again would be able to enjoy four seasons. I didn’t realize that they would come in like a wrestler taking the belt from the previous season by delivering an off-the-top-rope diving climate drop. The shaken season mustering the strength to fight back until finally succumbing to the new reigning champ.

Summer just took its first smackdown. Although we know it has a little fight left, the writing is on the wall — fall is holding the belt, for now.

I know there is no threat of frost yet, but with the temps dropping over 20 degrees in two days, I began to move some of my tropical plants, ones that don’t like temps below 70, to more protected areas. When I start moving plants like that, I know it’s time to either close up or change up and definitely clean up my garden beds.

Vegetable beds require maintenance to keep them healthy until spring planting if not planting cool weather crops. Many cool weather crops such as carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and beets develop their best flavor when they mature in cooler temperatures. Turnips, spinach, kale and onion sets can also be planted now.

If not interested in tending a vegetable garden, cover crops can be planted. Cover crops such as alfalfa, red clover, and vetch store nitrogen and once the plants are tilled into the soil, they will release the nitrogen as they compost thus restoring the essential minerals that were used up by the previous residents. Cover crops also help suppress weeds and control erosion.

If you’re just ready to tuck the vegetable bed in for a long winter’s nap, remove healthy vegetation to the compost pile and bag up any plants with signs of disease, along with any weeds, and place them in the trash. Now is a good time to have a soil test done to determine if the soil needs to be amended to replenish depleted nutrients or adjust the soil pH.

Compost can be added, and a thin layer of mulch spread over the bed to help suppress weeds. Don’t mulch too heavy; many diseases and pests are killed when soil freezes.

Dead or diseased foliage in flower beds should also be removed and disposed of properly. October is the time to plant new perennials and spring blooming bulbs. Bulb planting can be done through November, and perennial plants should be cut back after the first heavy frost.

Developing a garden diary of where plants are, and which did well or not so good can be helpful. If a perennial isn’t thriving in its current location, move it. Make notes about fertilization times and amounts, as well as plant problems such as mildew or pests for future preventative measures.

The garden beds aren’t the only parts of the garden that need to be winterized. Vacationing houseplants should be moved indoors before frost strikes. Pots containing annuals should be emptied, cleaned and stored in a garage or shed. If inside storage is not possible, place pots against a wall or fence and cover with a tarp.

Frost can damage terra cotta pots. Terra cotta and clay pots are very porous, soaking up water which can freeze and become ice. As water turns to ice, it expands and can shatter the pot.

Cleaning containers is a vital step in assuring the health of the plant that will live in them next year. Rinse pots of residual soil and use a scrub brush to remove stuck on soil and salts released from the soil that will damage plants. A solution of 9 parts water to 1 part bleach can then be used to kill off any disease organisms still clinging to the pot. Thoroughly rinse and air dry before storing.

If planted pots will remain outside, remove saucers so that plants will not stand in water. If you can move pots, group them together so that when freezing temperatures hit you can cover pots to protect plants. Remove covers during the daytime to keep plants from overheating. Reduce watering as plants go into dormancy.

Finally, make sure to clean tools and garden equipment. Lawn mowers should receive proper maintenance, hoses should be stored or wrapped, and hand tools along with other long handle tools should be cleaned, disinfected, and dried before storage.

Whether gardening through fall or closing up until spring, a little garden maintenance goes a long way. Until next week, happy gardening.

— Irland, a member of the Limestone County Master Gardeners, can be reached at kippirland@hotmail.com. For more information on the Limestone County Master Gardeners, visit http://mg.aces.edu/limestone.

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