Fall Garden Chores

Fall is the time to marvel at nature's fall foliage display, enjoy the taste of a slice of fresh apple pie, and hunt for the perfect pumpkin to carve into a jack-o'-lantern. Fall is also the time to prepare the garden for winter. Fall garden chores include raking leaves, mulching strawberries, and mounding soil around roses.

Lawns

Gardeners with large trees in their yard need to rake and dispose of the fallen leaves. A thick layer of leaves left on the lawn will damage and possibly destroy the turfgrass plants. Composting is an excellent way to dispose of leaves. Small quantities can be shredded by a lawnmower and left on the lawn.

Fall is also an excellent time to fertilize the lawn. Even though the turfgrass foliage stops growing in the late fall, the roots continue to absorb and utilize nutrients. An application of fertilizer in late October or early November helps promote root growth and early green up the following spring. Apply 1 pound of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.

Roses

Most modern roses, such as hybrid teas, floribundas, and grandifloras, require winter protection in Iowa. Exposure to low temperatures and rapid temperature changes injures and often destroys unprotected roses.

An excellent way to protect modern, bush-type roses is by hilling or mounding soil around the base of each plant. Begin by removing fallen leaves and other debris from around each plant. Removal of diseased plant debris helps reduce disease problems next season. Then loosely tie the canes together with twine to prevent the canes from being whipped by strong winds. Next, build a chicken wire fence around the roses and then mound soil 10 to 12 inches high around the canes. Finally, place additional material, such as straw or leaves, over the mound of soil after the ground freezes.

Many home gardeners use styrofoam rose cones to protect their roses. While they are easy and convenient, the styrofoam rose cones often do not provide adequate protection. Additional material is necessary. If using styrofoam rose cones, prune the canes back to allow the cone to fit over the plant. Remove any plant debris, then mound 6 to 8 inches of soil around the base of each plant. Set the cone over the plant. Finally, mound a small amount of soil around the outside base of the cone to keep it in place. Secure the cone by placing a brick or other heavy object on its top.

Prepare roses for winter when plants are dormant after exposure to two or three hard freezes. Normally, this is late October to early November in northern Iowa, mid-November in central areas, and mid- to late November in southern counties.

Strawberries

Strawberries should be mulched in the fall to prevent winter injury. Excellent mulching materials include clean, weed-free straw and chopped cornstalks. (Leaves are not a good mulch for strawberries. Leaves tend to mat together and do not provide adequate protection.) Apply 3 to 5 inches of the material. After settling, the depth of the mulch should be approximately 2 to 4 inches.

Allow the strawberry plants to harden or acclimate to the cool fall temperatures before mulching the bed. In northern Iowa, strawberries are normally mulched in late October to early November. Gardeners in central and southern Iowa should mulch their strawberries in early to mid-November and mid- to late November, respectively.

Vegetable Garden

Fall is an excellent time to clean and till the vegetable garden, especially if you experienced insect and disease problems. Many plant pathogens overwinter in the garden on infected plant debris. Removal and destruction of diseased plant debris helps in disease control. Removal of the plant debris also eliminates hiding places for some insects and helps reduce insect populations.

Additionally, a fall-tilled garden dries out and warms up quicker in the spring and permits early spring planting of the cool season crops.

Spring-flowering Bulbs

October is the ideal time to plant spring-flowering bulbs, such as tulips, daffodils, and crocuses. Select large, firm, healthy bulbs at your local garden center. Avoid small, soft, or damaged bulbs. Plant the spring-flowering bulbs in well-drained soils in partial to full sun. The proper planting depth of tulips and daffodils is 6 to 8 inches. (Planting depth is measured from the top of the bulb to the soil surface.) Smaller bulbs, such as crocuses, should be planted 3 to 4 inches deep. Plant spring-flowering bulbs in groups or clusters to achieve maximum visual impact. If soil conditions permit, spring-flowering bulbs can be planted as late as December.

After finishing those chores, it's still not time to rest. There are garden hoses to store, tools to clean, root crops to harvest, ...

This article originally appeared in the October 9, 1998 issue, pp. 122-123.

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