A GROWING CONCERN: Autumn full of chores for yard, garden

OCTOBER IS ONE of my most favorite times of year as our deciduous trees become a rainbow of colors. October is also the beginning of my busiest times of year, second only to May. My fall work will culminate in December, when hard pruning begins, but for now, it is a flurry of activity as the sun fades in intensity, the dew lies heavy on the yard, the rains begin and the temperature plummets.

So as long as I am working, so should you. Here is another chore list of the things to do as we move through autumn.

1. Plant

Autumn brings some of the best weather conditions for starting a variety of plants. As the weather cools, the sun lowers to shorter days with less intensity and the rains return, many new plants can settle their roots into the soil more easily. Perennials, bulbs, lawns and trees all find autumn a superb time to be planted.

For those of us nestled in the foothills, I would begin immediately on planting and over-seeding the lawn. The big difference will soon begin to happen in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley and the milder climates of Jefferson County, as temperatures stay significantly warmer through fall and show a greater tendency for dryer weather. I believe these conditions translate out from Oct. 10 to Nov. 10 as your planting time.

2. Propagate

Decide now whether there are any plants that you want to asexually reproduce, taking cuttings before frost, disease or mold claim them. So if you want to reproduce those expensive fuchsias, geraniums, lantanas or verbenas — along with anything else — now is the ideal time to take cuttings before cool night temperatures “wooden up” the stems.

Always cut off any buds or flowers, leaving only two to five small leaves. Also, always use a rooting powder such as Rootone. Remember, proper root cuttings must have lots of light and warm soil (72 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit).

3. Germinate

Yep, the fall rains are amassing, and the temperatures are ideal for many types of sowing. Over-seed your lawn with a winter blend.

Start a wildflower area these next few weeks with seed. Broadcast perennial seeds like lupine and keep sowing radishes, leaf lettuce, kale and salad greens. Don’t give up on the veggie garden. Just snip those slugs in half when you see them trying to eat your salad before you get to it.

4. Cold frames/ frost protection

I just received a card from my buddy Jack Frost, and he said he’d be out on the Peninsula in a few weeks for an all encompassing garden tour with your yard being on the list. To prepare for his arrival, gather cloth — not clear plastic — and drive down stakes for cover support and clean out an area for your containers to spend some cold nights under shelter.

Buy, build, beg or borrow a cold frame or two, and I promise, you will love this garden tool. And again in the spring, for you can grow greens and radishes all year long.

5. Feed the Beast

I know I’ve pushed phosphorus on you three times already; however, autumn has your plants requiring lots of specific nutrients. Fertilize everything so your plants don’t suffer from nutrient deficiency. Use specific fertilizers made for your exact plants — rhodie food for rhododendrons, rose food for roses, etc. For your lawn and other plants, get autumn blends that are lower in nitrogen to avoid new, weak growth that will be damaged by early frost. As for your annual flowers or baskets, let the normal fertilizer fly because they will be dead in a month or so.

6. Herbs

In the fall, trim woody perennial herbs, but with no more than one-third of their growth. Do this after they are done blooming or you have removed the flowers. Cut back the tops of the herbaceous perennials such as tansy, mint, bee balm and yarrow. You must have some bottom growth remaining on these plants, for they will grow into December.

Now is also a great time in the herb garden to cultivate and add bone meal.

7. Weeds

Oh boy, it is the invasion of the garden snatchers again. Seed pods are ripe everywhere, and your yard is prized real estate. Kill, pull, rip, dig, chop and spread germination inhibitors. Be ever so diligent now for a relatively weed-free spring 2022. Please, please stay atop the weeds now.

8. Begin to cut back.

Starting now but finishing in November or December, begin looking for and cutting back perennials. Remove only those leaves and plant parts that are dying. The more gradually you cut away the plants, the better it will set up during dormancy. More perennials are destroyed here on the Peninsula by premature fall cutbacks (cleanup) than any other cause.

9. Tender/specimens

Dig up and plant tender plants for moving indoors. Basil, gerberas, lemongrass, double impatiens, begonias and verbena all can be brought in doors for the winter. These plants will take several weeks to recover from the shock, and outdoor conditions are perfect now for recovery.

In two weeks, wash with lukewarm water and a mild soapy water (detergents do not work) to remove pests. Be sure to rinse thoroughly then fertilize lightly and move them inside.

10. Grass

Autumn is an active time for the lawn. Your lawn desires a fall/winter fertilizer, especially considering our soils. The next two days are the perfect time. Make sure you get a fall or winter fertilizer blend. Many places discount to move out their summer fertilizers, so beware. You want a winter blend.

Fall over-seeds are a great way to thicken your grass and fill in the bare spots before weeds move in. I personally like to let my grass grow tall now — 3½ inches or more. Then, everyone should be cutting short from October to November, minimizing the moisture related diseases.

Wooden benches, wooden tables and items not wanting to get moldy or soiled all winter should be moved in now or protected using patio covers. It isn’t recommended that you move propane tanks indoors and unless all of the fuel has been exhausted first. Storing fuel in a room that has a common wall to the house can cause carbon monoxide poisoning, so be cautious as you move into autumn mode.

With the fall colors coming on now, I think it is a great time to take a stroll through the nurseries for some eye candy crimson or burnt orange leaf color. So go ahead and make a date with your sweetie and see if you don’t just fall in love all over again as you stroll hand in glove while keeping an umbrella handy and your galoshes in the car just in case.

But no matter what, stay well!

________

Andrew May is a freelance writer and ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] (subject line: Andrew May).

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