Posted on October 29, 2021 at 11:33 p.m.
As the beautiful landscape of Lehigh Valley takes on its legendary colors and the first unwelcome frost arrives, home gardeners often have questions about fall stains.
Here are some concerns with answers to make your fall easier and pave the way for an early start to next year’s garden.
Do I have to rake all the leaves?
Ecologically speaking, you don’t need to rake the leaves, but a thick layer can suffocate your grass and prevent new growth in the spring.
Compacted leaves can promote diseases caused by snow mold that damage turf. The easiest way to treat leaves on your lawn is to run them several times with a mower to shred them into small pieces. This method will return nitrogen to the soil as the chipped leaves decompose.
In the garden, you can leave them where they fall, so that they help isolate the roots of the plants. You can rake and mash them with the mower, then put the shredded leaves back into the flower beds. If you want to get the leaves out of your garden, add them to your compost pile, rather than bagging and hauling them.
Do I have to cut everything?
Some plants must be left standing. After the first frosts, pull the annuals and plant debris from the garden. Throw the plants in the compost pile, except for any diseased material that needs to be bagged and put in the trash.
Do not cut back perennials that add interest to the winter landscape. You can leave ornamental grasses such as the feathered reed (Calamagrostis) with its tall plumes, and perennials such as the false blue indigo (Baptisia australis) which has interesting elongated black pods.
Some plants provide food for birds, and you shouldn’t cut them down. For example, goldfinches like the seeds of the purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). Wintering birds find protection in plant thatch and ground covers. Many perennials help beneficial insects in winter by providing them with shelter from their predators.
Do not cut low hardiness such as chrysanthemums (Chrysanthemum spp.) Because their tops help them survive the cold of winter. Low-growing evergreen or semi-evergreen perennials such as hardy geraniums, heucheras, hellebores and moss phlox do not need to be cut.
You need to cut plants with powdery mildew like lemon balm (Monarda). Remember to destroy, not compost, diseased stems and leaves.
How do you keep tender plants from dying in winter?
Dig up tender bulbs, such as cannas, caladiums, and dahlias, and store them where they won’t freeze. Pack them in boxes of sawdust or peat most of the time. You may want to save the seeds of your favorite non-hybrid plants. Find a place in your garage or basement for any shrubs or trees you grow in containers, especially Japanese maples (Acer spp).
You can have plants in their nursery pots, still unplanted, in the fall. For these plants, you can dig holes in the empty vegetable patch and push them down.
In order not to lose roses and other shrubs due to strong winds, you can protect them with windbreaks or hessian enclosures. You can spray the leaves of evergreen shrubs with an anti-desiccant to prevent moisture loss caused by the cold, because when the ground is frozen, the evergreens cannot replace the moisture lost by the needles. Use mulch, such as three to five inches of straw, to insulate plant roots from harsh winter temperatures.
Can I plant anything in the fall?
Plant the bulbs in cool weather before the first severe frosts. They need a long period of cold to grow the foliage and flower. Plants grown in containers can be planted from early to mid-fall, giving them time to establish a root system before the ground freezes. Add a thick layer of mulch to keep them from lifting off the ground when it freezes and thaws.
Should I weed in the fall?
It is important that you do one final weed control in the fall before the weeds left in the garden go to seed and produce hundreds of new weeds next year. Fall is the best time to treat lawn weeds with a broadleaf weedkiller.
Enjoy the beautiful fall foliage as you “put your garden to bed”. You can look forward to resting from gardening chores this winter knowing you’ve made a good start to the next growing season.
âGrowing Greenâ is a contribution from Lehigh County Extension Office staff and master gardeners. Information: Lehigh County Extension Office, 610-391-9840; Northampton County Extension Office, 610-813-6613.
PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY DIANE DORN Composting leaves is a great way to recycle nutrients.