The Greener View: Fall Gardens
Sometimes it is fun to look at the differences that gardeners in the northern and southern parts of the country face. As we head into fall, what should gardeners be doing?
Depending on how much protection a northern vegetable garden has from the weather, it may not suffer much damage from a light frost. Crops that grow best in cool weather such as broccoli, cabbage, spinach and radishes can be harvested even after several frosts.
Warm season plants such as tomatoes, beans, peppers and the vine crops die in frosts, and the plants are headed for the compost pile. Harvest any green fruits that are going to be frosted, and bring them inside to let them ripen indoors. Don't bother with fruit that has soft spots because it will continue to rot. Ripening can be sped up by putting fruit in a paper sack and adding a ripe apple. The apple releases ethylene gas that helps other fruit ripen.
The fall is the best time to rototill the garden because the soil usually isn't too wet. Add organic matter, leave the soil in large chunks, and let the freezing and thawing action of winter weather break them apart.
As northern gardeners try to salvage green tomatoes from the frost, southern gardeners are planting tomatoes and other warm season vegetables for a winter crop. Hot southern areas have better vegetable gardens in the fall, winter and spring than in the summer. Strawberries can be planted in beds or containers.
After the first frost, northern gardeners dig up summer flowering bulbs like cannas, dahlias and gladioluses. Wash off the soil, sprinkle fungicide on any wounds, and let them dry. Store them in a loose bag in a dry, cool, dark place until spring. If the location is too warm, they will shrivel up, and if it is too moist, they will rot.
Plant tulips, daffodils and other spring flowering bulbs in the garden after you have had the first frost. Until next spring, northern gardens will look bleak.
As the cool weather arrives, southern gardeners can divide summer flowering bulbs like caladiums, cannas, dahlias, elephant ears and gladioluses. Or, just leave them in place and cover them with several inches of mulch. This is the time of year to plant agapanthuses, amaryllises, calla lilies and elephant ear bulbs.
Cool weather may mean switching out the southern flower bed. Cool-season annual flowers that give color all winter include carnations, foxgloves, pansies, petunias and snapdragons.
In all areas, many perennials can be divided and replanted as they go dormant. To ease the transplant shock, just dig out half the plant. Add organic matter where the plant was removed. Move or give away the extra plants. It is easier to see where they should go now, before everything starts growing, than in the spring.
Northern gardeners need to remove fallen tree leaves from lawns. Grass plants that are shaded can't produce and store the carbohydrates necessary for surviving the winter. Sod can be planted until the ground freezes, but you are taking a chance that it won't survive the longer you wait to install it. It is becoming too late to plant grass seed with the guarantee of a successful crop
Keep mowing southern, warm-season grass as long as it remains green. Many winter weeds sprout in the fall, so apply preemergent herbicides. Make sure to adjust the irrigation system, as cooler weather means the grass and flower beds don't need as much water as they did in the summer.
Email questions to Jeff Rugg at email@example.com. To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.