Fall finale: How-to tips as winter approaches

Well, fall and winter are on the way, and that means there’s a lot to do outdoors. Normally, I don’t spend much time talking about lawn care. I’m just not that interested in grass and, to be honest, I’m embarrassed by the fact that I can hardly manage to start our mower by myself — all the cord yanking and lever pushing. Maybe it’s a coordination thing?

But I do realize that lots of people do care about their lawns, so here we go. Let’s talk about some things you can do to keep your grass healthy and looking good. Though it’s too late to do any more seeding, you can still lay sod for a new lawn or just use some chunks to repair damaged spots. Be sure to water enough to keep the surface of the soil moist. Once it takes root, you can start mowing and reduce watering. Keep mowing until you notice that your grass, old or new, has stopped growing.

Late October is a great time to fertilize your lawn. When choosing a fertilizer, your best bet will be a slow-release nitrogen brand because your grass will use some of the nutrients now and the rest when it begins to grow again in the spring. To protect lakes and streams, be sure to use a fertilizer that doesn’t contain phosphorous, which promotes the growth of algae and other unwanted plants.

If you’ve got Creeping Charlie or other weeds you want to get rid of, October is a good time to apply weed killer (broadleaf herbicide). Wait to apply it until after the first hard frost. Got mushrooms? Right now, parts of my yard and gardens are filled with them and I bet some of you have this problem, too. Sadly, there’s not much we can do about it. Mushrooms pop up after cool, wet weather. It’s best to rake them up as quickly as possible so kids and pets don’t eat them.

As your trees lose their leaves, remember you can always cut down on your leaf bagging by raking leaves into piles and running over them with the mower. These finely chopped leaves make great mulch, so you can scatter them anywhere in your gardens. You can also turn them into the soil in open areas where you removed annuals or vegetables. They’ll break down over the winter and improve your soil. As I said last year, layers of unraked leaves will smother grass, so if you’ve got one tree that holds onto its leaves until its freezing outside, it’s still smart to get out there with that mower and run those leaves over a little to break them up a bit.

Whew! OK, enough about lawns and weeds and mushrooms and the like. Back to the garden. If you grow rosemary and you want to keep it and plant it outdoors next year, dig it up, pot it and put it in your sunniest window. Water it enough to keep it moist, but not wet. If you’ve still got some green tomatoes on the vine come mid-October, bring them inside if there’s threat of a frost. If you spread them out on the counter, they’ll ripen in a few days.

If you haven’t yet cut back your perennial plants, grab some paper and spend a few minutes writing down anything about your gardens that you’d like to change in the spring. You can just draw circles to represent clumps of plants. The main thing is to get an idea of what is where because you’ll have a much tougher time remembering in May when all you’ve got to look at is new, green growth.

If you’ve shopped fall plant sales, be sure to get everything in the ground by mid-October so everything has time to get established before it gets too cold. If you run out of time to get things planted, sink plants in their pots into any open area you’ve got and mulch over them well. They may not make it through winter, but they’ll have a fighting chance. Keep watering until the ground freezes. All of your plants, especially the new ones, need plenty of water through the fall.

Try your best to blow or rake most leaves out of your garden — except the bits you ran over with the lawn mower. In addition to shredded leaves, you can add compost or aged manure to your garden soil right now to help boost soil nutrients for next year. Turn these things into the top 8 to 12 inches of soil and, of course, be really careful of plant roots if you’re working in existing gardens.

If you’ve collected seeds from any of your perennial flowers, now is a good time to sow them into the garden if you know where you’d like them to be. I, for example, just grabbed a couple of the dried heads of my garlic chives and spread the seeds around to create a bigger patch for next year. I did the same thing with my coneflowers and candy lilies. All the other seeds I’ve collected are sitting on a shelf in my basement. I remember what some of them are and the rest, well, I sure wish I’d followed my own advice and labeled them when I got them. Oops!

Meleah Maynard is a Master Gardener and freelance writer, living in Linden Hills. If you’ve got a gardening question you’d like her to address in her column, you can email it to [email protected].