NDSU Extension - Burke County


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Fall Horticulture Tips

County Agent News
Dan Folske
October 16, 2017 

Fall Horticulture Tips


            Are your lawn and garden ready for fall? As leaves begin to fall everyone is usually anxious to keep them raked up and frustrated when a new batch falls or blows in right after you’ve finished bagging the last ones. But what about thinking ahead to next year, this is a perfect time for dividing many perennials. It is also a great time for planting many bulbs like Tulips. Bleeding Heart, Columbine, Day Lilies, Echinacea, and Peonies also do well with fall plantings.

            Should I mulch my beds now? You could but I would wait another week or two. Less winter hardy perennials can be helped but mulching but contrary to common opinion you are not mulching to keep your plants from freezing but rather to keep them from thawing and breaking dormancy too early in the spring. Extreme cold may injure or kill plants occasionally but it is coming out of dormancy too soon that kills most perennials in the spring.

            Which perennials should I leave and which should I cut back or clean out?  This is a little tougher to answer because it is more species specific. In general, if the foliage crumples and turns mushy after the frost, clean it out to prevent disease. If the foliage is still standing and green, leave it.

Prune shears

            Should I prune shrubs like lilac, caragana, or juniper? It is best to wait until they are fully dormant and then be aware that you may be reducing next year’s flowering by pruning. Lilacs and fruit trees like apples have already started to develop the buds for next year’s flowers. They are usually best pruned right after flowering in the spring if you want maximum flowers. Otherwise late winter is the best time to prune apples.

            It is getting a little later than ideal for fertilizing lawns but is still better than early spring. It’s not to late to spray for dandelions either. You may not notice yellow flowers out there but the plants are still there and you will get much better control than if you wait for spring.

            Have you got perennial weeds in your garden? Quack grass, creeping jenny or field bindweed, or Canada Thistle all have vulnerable root systems. Be careful about herbicides that can have soil residuals and injure next year’s garden plants but deep tillage which tears and exposes the root systems of perennials can really lessen their presence next year. If you have heavy clay soils and received a lot of rain last week be careful of tillage which might destroy the soil structure and cause hard lumps. The coming winter freeze cycle will help to mitigate lumping and hard soil problems but be careful not to make the problem worse by tilling in wet conditions.  

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