GTI Lawn & Garden Letter

Entertaining advice for home gardeners with a focus on lawn and garden care and the outdoor gardening lifestyle. Suitable primarily for people living in northeastern North America and similar temperate climates in other parts of the world.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Fall Lawn and Garden Care

If you are a little more organized than me, your gardening is probably all done for the season, tools have been cleaned and oiled and any gas powered equipment has been properly winterized. However, if you are like me, perhaps you were lulled by the beautiful fall weather into a sense of endless summer and the recent cooler temperatures have you in a bit of a panic about getting the yard cleaned up before winter.

The first thing to do is stop worrying. Gardening should be a relaxing pursuit free of worry. Snow has a wonderful way of covering up the fall work that didn't get done. In spring it will still be there although likely a little mushier and harder to rake up. Here is my priority list for winterizing the yard.

1. Drain any hoses, outdoor faucets and rain barrels. A no brainer - if you don't, damage will result. Turn rain barrels upside down and store hoses out of the weather - I coil all mine in a plastic garbage can in the shed.

2. Rake any leaves off the lawn or mulch them with your mower. In a perfect world, you want to keep leaves off the lawn at this time of year as the grass plants are still gathering energy for their long winter dormancy. I rake my leaves into shrub borders and under trees and leave them to rot there rather than bagging them. If you have a good mulching mower, you can mulch up to an ankle depth of leaves directly into the lawn without harm. Due to the mild fall, leaves are taking their sweet time to fall from many trees and I fear we may have snow before leaf fall. Do your best but don't lose sleep over a few leaves. There is always next spring.

3. Apply a fall fertilizer to your lawn. If you only fertilize your lawn once a year - do it in late fall. Applying about 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet now will help the grass plants resist winter damage and provide good spring green up next year. I use a fast release nitrogen source called urea which is available from any good farm supply store. Urea is a "hot" source of nitrogen meaning you need to apply it carefully and avoid any spillage on the lawn as it can burn if applied too heavily. Urea's analysis is 46-0-0 meaning it is 46% nitrogen so you only need to apply about two pounds (~1 kg) per 1000 square feet (~100 sq. m). Estimate the area of your lawn and weigh out (use bathroom scales and a pail) and apply the correct amount of fertilizer. Better to apply too little and make a couple passes then apply too much at once. I also like to go into the winter with my lawn cut at my normal cutting height (highest setting on my mower ~3") but don't worry if it is a little shaggy.

4. Winterize any summer power equipment. Gas will evaporate over the winter and leave deposits in your carburetor and engine that can cause problems next spring. Either drain or run the engine dry or use a gas stabilizer treatment following the product instructions. Scrap mower decks clean. Changing the engine oil and sharpening the blades will have everything ready to go next spring. (Note: If you have space in your garage, you can probably leave these tasks until later in the fall - my equipment is stored in the back shed and I have to get it done before the snow flies)

5. Clean up annual and perennial containers and beds. While they can wait until spring, annuals are best removed after the first frost before they become a soggy mess to handle. Gardeners debate whether you should cut back perennials in the fall or leave them until spring. I tend to cut back everything except the ornamental grasses and coneflower seed heads. The grasses provide some visual interest through the winter and the coneflower seeds are popular with the goldfinches and chickadees. I make short work of perennial bed cleanup by using a manual weed whacker and my old fashioned scythe which cut back the garden very quickly and all you have to do is rake up the debris and take it to the compost. If you have an old lawn mower, you could even set it up high and run it over your perennial beds for a quick cleanup. I have some large containers and I just remove the plants and the root/soil mass, heel any perennials in a back corner of the garden, recover and properly store rhizomes like canna lily and then store the containers with the remaining soil mix in the shed. Saves on soil for next year as you only have to pot up the top half or so of the container.

6. Clean up your hand tools. Giving your shovels, forks, rakes, etc. a cleaning using a wire brush and then spraying metal surfaces with something like WD40 will help prevent rusting over winter. Wiping wooden handles with a cloth soaked in linseed oil will extend the life of wooden handles as well.

That pretty well sums up the late fall lawn and garden tasks. If you get through all these before the snow sets in, congratulations! Don't forget to get the snow blower running or the snow shovel out of storage before it is needed.

If you have any questions or suggestions for future posts, please let me know. Relax and enjoy the gardening off season. Take the time to plan and dream about next year. The seed catalogues should be arriving in the mail any day now...