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Gardening in the Fall: Preparing for a Frost

Once autumn begins, it’s a good time to start thinking about frosts and freezes and the effect they can have on your plants. Most garden plants, assuming they’re hardy in your area, will weather the winter without any problem. An abrupt, early freeze may cause them to drop their leaves prematurely or cause some tissue damage, but most will rebound next spring.

However, there are exceptions. Use the following tips to ensure that your garden is ready when the frost bites.

Bring tender plants indoors. Depending on where you live, some plants may behave as either annuals or perennials that simply can’t handle even a light frost. Many people don’t bother trying to extend the life of plants generally not meant to last more than a year and let them die back after a freeze hits.

However, if you grow tender annuals and perennials in pots and want to save them, move the pots into the garage or house when frost threatens and take them back out when the weather warms a bit, at least for a week or two. This process allows the plant acclimate better to a drastic change in growing conditions.

Tropicals can go in the house or garage before temperatures drop below 45 degrees F. Before bringing them inside, spray any plants that appear to have pests, such as spider mites, aphids and mealy bugs. A solution containing neem oil works well for treating these pests. Once the plants are inside, cut back on watering and withhold applying any fertilizer until next spring.

Don’t forget to prepare your house for the new arrivals. There’s nothing worse than watching the evening weather, only to discover that a freeze is on the way, and realize that you don’t have any room for your plants.

Protect evergreens. Evergreens in pots can be especially vulnerable. If their roots freeze, they may not make it through the winter. Those in large pots may be fine during mild winters, but evergreens in small pots should be protected. Place them against a wall and cover the pots with mulch or shredded leaves. Keep them watered throughout the winter. Don’t allow the root balls of evergreens in the garden dry out completely, even if it means dragging the hose out in the middle of winter and giving them a thorough soaking.

Cover tender seedlings in the vegetable garden. Fall veggies, especially tender seedlings, may need protection, although most can survive temperatures of around 28 degrees F with little or no tissue damage. Nevertheless, when the forecast calls for temperatures in that range, keep a few blankets handy to cover crops overnight.

During the day, if temperatures rise above freezing, remove the blankets so that excessive heat doesn’t accumulate beneath the coverings. Some people use clear plastic to protect their plants. Plastic causes more accumulation of heat, which is good, but if you don’t take the plastic off before direct sun hits it the next day, your plants will cook.

Grow hardy selections of culinary herbs during the winter months. Most culinary herbs are fairly tender but can survive temperatures in the upper 20s. However, some herbs, such as rosemary and thyme, can overwinter in their pots outdoors.

Watch out for new plant growth. Interestingly, some plants may actually start to put on new growth in response to cooler temperatures, especially if summer temps were really hot. But that new growth is tender, especially in the case of broadleaf and needled evergreens, and unless it has a chance to harden off before a freeze, it may die back.

Resist cutting back ornamental grasses. If you grow ornamental grasses, resist the temptation to cut the foliage back until late winter or early spring because all that top growth helps insulate the root ball. That’s especially true if the grass is only marginally hardy in your area.

Keep in mind that freezes don’t just affect plants. They can wreak havoc on other features in your garden as well.

Clean out and store pots in a protected area. Even the best pots can crack if the soil is left in them over the winter, so remember to remove the soil. If you have time and are so inclined, scrub the pots clean with a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water.

Store watering cans in a protected area. Watering cans, especially galvanized cans, may expand and crack if water left in them freezes. Empty watering cans and place them where they can’t collect rainwater.

Winterize water features. Water features are of particular concern during the winter. Small features will freeze, despite the running water produced by the fountain, and that can ruin the pump and the pot. So make sure you drain them and store the pot and pump in the garage or garden shed. Depending on where you live, larger water features and ponds may freeze over somewhat, but if they are deep enough or have a waterfall rapid and large enough, they shouldn’t freeze solid. Consult a pond installation expert on how to properly winterize your water feature.

Prepare fish for the winter. Koi enter a state of suspended animation during the winter and survive the cold water with no problem. Cut back on feeding the koi because the more they eat, the more waste they produce. In cold water the bacteria that breaks down that waste doesn’t work well. So to maintain water quality, limit feeding to those occasional warm spells that may occur in the winter.

Generally speaking, winter frosts and freezes don’t cause nearly as many problems in the garden as late-spring freezes, when plants are busting out all over with tender new growth. So don’t panic this winter when the mercury takes a dive. Just do what you’ve got to do, then go inside and warm up by the fire.

(original post)

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How To Prepare Your Lawn and Garden For Fall

Gardening expert Paul James offers advice on fertilizing, seeding and planting.

As fall weather takes hold, you need to change your gardening practices to get your landscape ready for the season ahead. But when do you start? And what should you do? Gardening by the Yard host Paul James offers advice on the intricacies of preparing for autumn:

His first bit of advice: Start your work about six weeks before the first hard freeze.

Preparing the lawn.

This will be the ideal time to sow cool-season grasses such as fescue and rye; it will give them the opportunity to germinate and develop a good root system before freezing temperatures arrive.

It’s also the right time to fertilize turfgrasses, preferably with slow-release, all-natural fertilizer. When given adequate nutrients, turfgrasses can store food in the form of carbohydrates during the winter months. That will mean a better-looking lawn come spring.

This six-week window is also the perfect time to put down a second application of selective, pre-emergent herbicide.

The first application — which lawn enthusiasts usually apply in late winter to early spring — takes care of weed seeds that overwintered in the lawn. The second application deals with weed seeds that were deposited during the summer months. (You can buy all-natural pre-emergent herbicides made from corn gluten.)

At the end of the year, you can also make an application of post-emergent herbicide, or you can spot-treat weeds with a nonselective herbicide such as glyphosate. For spot treatments, you can also use an all-natural formulation such as horticultural vinegar or clove oil.

Caution: Know the difference between selective and nonselective herbicides. Selective herbicides target specific weeds or seeds without damaging turf grass or landscape plants in the process. Nonselective herbicides destroy anything and everything green.

Maintain the landscape.

This is the time to tidy up a bit, removing unsightly foliage, dried stems and similar debris. It’s also a good time to fluff your mulch with a steel rake to allow water to penetrate deep into the subsoil.

While you’re messing around with the landscape, you can also fill it out with new plants. Trees, shrubs and various perennials — especially those that give seasonal color such as mums, asters and pansies — are some good options. You could even tackle a cool-season vegetable garden consisting of lettuce and other greens, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, turnips and even potatoes.

As you take care of your landscape, use as much of your compost as you can, spreading it in flower beds and at the base of trees and shrubs. That way you’ll have plenty of room in your pile or bins for all the leaves that will soon fall.

A note of caution: Resist the urge to prune, because the tender new growth that would result may not have a chance to harden off sufficiently before cold weather arrives, and that can lead to damage.

Ready your container plants.

Believe it or not, the most overlooked group of plants this time of year is container plants, and there are plenty of things to consider with respect to their care:

  • Annuals. By definition, these plants only last a year, but there are ways to extend their lives. You can, for example, take cuttings of various annuals and root them in either water or a potting medium such as vermiculite, perlite or soil-less potting mix. Just remember to strip all but the top few leaves off the stem, keep the potting medium moist at all times and keep plants out of direct sunlight. Within a few weeks the plants should develop a dense mass of roots, at which point you can pot them up and grow them as houseplants. This doesn’t work with all annuals, but it’s fun to experiment.
  • Tropical plants. Many of them, including palms and bananas, make excellent houseplants throughout the winter months. A good move now is to make room for all your tropical plants indoors, because this is also the time of year when sudden drops in temperature can come seemingly out of nowhere. Woody tropicals such as plumeria and citrus can easily be overwintered indoors – or in the garage, as long as the temperature doesn’t drop below freezing.
  • Perennials. Consider transplanting perennials from their containers directly into the garden. Carefully remove them from their pots, trim their roots a bit to stimulate the growth of new feeder roots, stick them in the ground and trim their top growth a little.
  • Herbs. They tend to look pretty shabby toward the end of summer, so either harvest and dry them or consider moving them indoors. Generally, though, herbs don’t do very well inside unless they get a lot of natural or fluorescent light. (The same goes for most succulents, though cacti seem to fair best among them.)

Keep the birds coming.

When you invite birds into your yard by feeding them, they do a fantastic job of keeping the insect population in check, which means you don’t have to spray or dust as often to control pests.

Don’t forget the shed!

Take time to clean your garden storage area, tossing old chemicals — responsibly of course — and taking note of what you’ll need to replenish before next spring.

A number of gardening products have a shelf life and may lose their effectiveness over time or if they get too hot or too cold. That’s particularly true of botanical insecticides such as Bt and beneficial fungi.

And of course you should tend to your tools. Rub metal tool surfaces with a light coating or oil; rub wooden tool handles with boiled linseed oil; and sharpen everything that needs it with a proper file.

(original source)