Hang up the gardening gloves

It’s time to put your garden in winter mode

When fall arrives in Minnesota, Larry Pfarr, director of marketing and merchandising at Bachman’s, has just one thing on his mind when it comes to his yard: spring. “I try to get a lot of prep work done in the fall so I don’t spend time in the spring cleaning up when I want to get planting,” explains Pfarr of his rigorous end-of-season routine. Pfarr outlined for us what homeowners need to do now (yes, now) to have a lush, green landscape when spring rolls around again.

The easiest way to ensure a healthy, green lawn come spring is to make raking a priority. “It’s very important to get leaves raked off because if they stay they form a mat, which can suffocate the lawn and leave dead spots,” Pfarr says. A layer of leaves can also cause snow mold, a disease that forms under the snow and results in unsightly patches of fungal growth. Pfarr also recommends lowering your lawnmower blade to two inches for the final mow of the season to make sure grass doesn’t lie flat and form a similar mat.

And while fall is typically too late to reseed, a winterizing fertilizer can be put down through early October, and sod can be put down until the ground freezes.

Vegetable gardens

The popularity of vegetable gardens this summer means many residents have questions for Pfarr about how to keep their beds healthy for spring. His best advice: keep it clean. “Remove any produce that’s fallen, get the plants pulled out and composted, and just make sure it’s cleared out,” he explains. Throwing down compost or manure and working the bed up can also save time next season. “I turn the bed over once in the fall so next spring I only do that one more time and it’s ready for planting.”

When it comes to breaking into your compost, Pfarr says make sure what you’re spreading is the rich, black material that is well broken down. “If you can still see leaves and blades of grass it’s no good,” says Pfarr. “It has to look like soil.”

Planters, window boxes and flower beds

Fall is the perfect time to clean out window boxes and planters and introduce fall mums, which add color (think bright orange, deep red and bold yellow) to the landscape just as summer annuals are wrapping up. Pfarr also puts fresh potting soil in the pots he’s not using so they are ready and waiting for spring plantings.

Perennial gardens can be cut back after a really hard frost, though Pfarr leaves his perennials alone until spring. “In my yard I don’t cut anything back until after the snow melts because I like what they look like in the winter, with the flowerhead poking through the snow,” he says. “It adds interest to the winter landscape.”

Trees and shrubs

Trees and shrubs are one area where Pfarr recommends a hands-off policy in the fall: nothing should be trimmed or pruned at this time of year. Cutting back blooming shrubs in fall is a bad idea because trimming lilacs, azaleas, rhododendrons and the like means you’re cutting off future flowers (instead, trim flowering shrubs immediately after they bloom). Summer shrubs like spireas, hydrangeas and potentillas are best pruned in early spring, and trees should only be trimmed in the dead of winter.

The best thing homeowners can do for trees and shrubs — especially if you plant in the fall — is to be vigilant about watering. “We see a lot of dead evergreens and dead rhododendrons that dehydrated in winter,” explains Pfarr. “We’ve had dry summers, so you should keep watering until the ground freezes.”

Final thoughts

The easiest way to have Pfarr storming your lawn in outrage is to cover your perennials too early. “That’s the biggest mistake I see,” says Pfarr. “The ground should be frozen at least an inch before you put straw down or you’ll suffocate the plants underneath.”

Fall deals

On the surface it might not seem like there are a lot of benefits to the change of season: There are leaves to rake, grass to fertilize and gardens to clean up. But retailers are cutting plenty of deals to make end-of-summer preparations less painful to your wallet.

End of season

“Everyone wants to get rid of their larger seasonal stock,” says Joe Young of Bayers Do-It-Best in Linden Hills of patio furniture and grills, which are discounted this time of year. Other post-summer specials can include gardening materials, patio accessories (tiki torches, anyone?) and planters.

Fall necessities

The seasonal shift offers its own set of sales, including rakes, leaf blowers, yard waste bags and fall fertilizers. Retailers also often discount smoke alarms and fire extinguishers in honor of October’s distinction as fire prevention month.

Winter needs

“It’s better to buy shovels and snow blowers now than when the first snow hits,” says Young, who always sees a rush on winter accessories when the flakes start to fall. Planning ahead means paying less, so look for early fall deals on window insulation kits, space heaters and everything related to snow removal.

Monica Wright can be reached at mwright@mnpubs.com or 436-4394.