Friday, September 27, 2013

Fall is for Planting

Fall will probably always have a hard time competing with spring when it comes to generating gardening enthusiasm. I guess there is some natural rhythm that encourages us to plant in spring.  But fall planting has many benefits.

ü  Soil is warm... warmer than in the spring. Roots continue to grow in the fall well past the time that leaves are shed.

ü  Moisture is usually plentiful and reliable in fall. And, deciduous plants that we establish in fall lose their leaves, reducing demands for moisture. Fall planted trees and shrubs have a ‘leg-up” on the spring planted ones regarding root growth and are better prepared for the likelihood of summer droughts. 

ü  Plants are cheaper! Every garden center I pass has some incentive for fall tree and shrub sales. Take advantage of it. You have nothing to lose and lots to gain. Do check plant quality before buying.

Fall is a perfect time for lawn care.  As a serious Philadelphia Phillies fan I have been listening to one of the major turf product suppliers telling me to “feed and seed” my lawn in almost every radio broadcast since March. Well, as the old saying goes, “Even a stopped clock is right twice a day." That fellow was on target in late spring… and again now.

September might be the ideal month for new lawn seedings but Penn State guidelines say seeding until October 15 is fine and we can stretch this deadline to late October successfully in Southeastern PA . One of the best reasons to establish new lawns in fall is to avoid the competition of summer annual weeds such as crabgrass. Crabgrass germinates and competes with spring seedings but not in the fall. The warm, moist soil is ideal for germination and root growth. Spring is a poor second choice when it comes to lawn establishment. A word of advice: simply tossing grass seed on the soil surface will not result in germination. That seed needs to be in the soil, not on it.   See this Penn State publication for details on renovation seeding.
Weed control and fertilization are two maintenance tasks that are best done in the fall. Weeds translocate herbicides very well as they approach dormancy. This means good weed control because the root systems of perennial weeds are killed. Controlling weeds is the fall means virtually weed-free lawns in spring.   Clover, dandelion and other broadleaves weeds are pretty easy to control with modern chemistries available in the garden center. October is a great month to go at it. Weed and feed products can kill two birds with one stone. But generally, sprayed on herbicides provide better control of broadleaved weeds.

If you have not applied some nitrogen fertilizer this fall, do it ASAP. You’ll be rewarded with good plant response this fall as well as next spring. Fertilization may be the best weed control practice you can perform. Dense turf competes with weed invaders. How much fertilizer should you apply? Label instructions will get you in the ball park. For a more precise approach, you can get a Penn State soil test kit here and follow the recommendations.  Ever applied lime to your lawn? If not, there's a good chance that this cheap pH adjuster will pay off. Soil tests will advise on this, too. If you are guessing… 50 lbs of ground limestone per 1000 square feet is a starting point.

Plant bulbs now. This is certainly a case of practicing delayed gratification. It will be months before you see the fruits of your labor. But, you can’t have that glorious spring display of daffodils and tulips if you aren’t willing to go to work now! Plants lots for best  effect. Think in terms of 25, 50 and 100. 

Not into flowers? How about garlic? October is garlic planting month. I use Columbus Day as a reminder to plant garlic but there is plenty of leeway on this. A local farmers market is a good place to find locally adapted garlic varieties and you can find one by looking at our Fresh From Bucks County Farms DirectoryGrowing garlic is very easy. Check out some highlights here in one of my previous blog posts

Odds and ends. What better time to be in the garden than on a cool sunny day in fall? Here’s a list of some other tasks suited to the season:           

            Kill perennial weeds. Canada thistle, bindweed, poison ivy. As long as they have green leaves they are great targets for translocated herbicides such as glyphosate (Roundup, etc).  

            Start a compost pile. Tree leaves, brush, garden clean up stuff.. they all make great ingredients for a compost pile. For the basics check out this publication from Illinois Extension. This cool Cornell University video goes into details and this Cornell publication has even more good composting information.

Winterize garden equipment. Why not put all of that summer garden gear to bed in good condition? Clean and sharpen shovels, hoes and other hand equipment. Rub some linseed oil into wooden handles. Service power equipment. Drain and hang hoses. Empty and store flower pots and other containers. 

Seed cover crops into vacant vegetable garden beds. Rye is probably the best all around winter cover for our area. Find it at farm supply stores. Rye can be seeded until the middle of November and makes a dense, winter hardy ground cover. Spade that overwintered rye into the soil in early spring before it gets too tall. You’ll be amazed at the massive root system it creates.