Fall fertilizing - Fall lawn care is essential

Wednesday, November 21, 2001

an you believe the mild fall weather recently? On Sunday Kelsi and Coby were helping Marilyn and I put up Christmas lights. They were both in short sleeves.

Most gardeners I know are still taking advantage of the unseasonably warmer temperatures to do the things that they love to do -- care for their landscape and gardens. If you want to take advantage of the good weather but don't know what to do, I've suggested some cultural practices below, which are important for your lawn and landscape and yet easy to do.

If you have a cool season lawn, one that consists of fescues, ryes, or bluegrasses, now is a great time to winterize it. Find a winterizer fertilizer, such as 10-5-14, at your local garden center and apply it sometime between now and Christmas. Roots of cool season grasses grow all winter. By applying this fertilizer now, you stimulate root growth, the basis of a good turf, and also get early spring green up without stimulating succulent top growth.

If you have broadleaf evergreens, such as holly, boxwood, magnolia, nandina, azaleas, and rhododendrons, in your landscape, apply anti-stress to them. Broadleaf evergreens transpire all winter long. If the ground is frozen, the plants continue to transpire, but can draw no water up from the soil. This can cause winter burn. Anti-stress clogs up the stomata of the broadleaf evergreens and does not allow them to transpire during cold weather. This is a good way to reduce any winter burn that may occur if we have an extremely cold winter.

If you want to plant any trees and shrubs now is a great time. By planting them now, they can get settled into the new soil before growth starts in the spring. Therefore you get a head start on growth for the spring. I would probably prefer to plant most trees and shrubs in the fall. All you have to do is watch watering, just like you would do if you planted in the spring. Most good garden centers will have lots of plant material to choose from.

If you like fall bulbs, believe it or not, I think it is finally time to plant them. I usually tell people to buy tulip, daffodil, and hyacinth bulbs in August or September, but don't plant them until November or December, when soils get cold. If you plant them too early, they may come in the fall instead of in the spring. Be sure to place some bone meal under the bulbs when you plant them.

I would like to give you one other hint about planting fall bulbs. In order for you to make a show in the spring, plant them in clusters, and plant up to nine per square foot If you want one here and one there, you will be disappointed in the spring.

Now is a great time to prune most of the deciduous trees in your landscape. On the other hand, if you have maples or birches, prune them during the middle of the summer. If your junipers, yews, and boxwoods are looking a little ragged, give them a shearing. I also prune holly at this time of the year so that I can have the sprigs with red berries to decorate our house.

You can also prune summer flowering shrubs such as spirea now. Early blooming shrubs such as bridal veil spirea, forsythia, weigela, and viburnums may be pruned now, but I wouldn't recommend it. You won't hurt the plant, but you will be pruning off the bloom buds for the spring.

If you haven't gotten around to cutting off your perennials, now is the time to do it. Get rid of the old foliage so that when the new foliage emerges in the spring, it will look new and fresh, not intermixed with old dead plant tissue.

You can also prune ornamental grasses and liriope to the ground at this time. Some people like to wait until late spring, because they like the look of brown grass swaying in the wind all winter long. I like to prune them to the ground now, because the shoots of most ornamental grasses tend to break off in the wind during the winter and trash your landscape.

Of course fall brings lots of leaves to the landscape. Don't just throw them away. Make a compost pile and use that to enhance the soil in your landscape or garden. You will be surprised how much your plants will like the compost. If you have questions about composting go to your local garden center. They should have clerks who can get you started correctly.

Finally don't forget about your furry and feathered friends. Set up some feeders where you can watch them from inside your home. You will be in for a treat all winter long.

As you can see, there are a lot of things you can still do in your landscape. All of the cultural practices I have suggested are not just busy work but are important in enhancing the growth and vigor of all your plants.

May all of you have a very happy Thanksgiving. Especially in the times that we are experiencing, we should all be thankful for our blessings, no matter how small or great that they may be.

Send your gardening questions to Paul Schnare at news@semissourian.com or write him at P.O. Box 699; Cape Girardeau, Mo. 63702-0699.

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