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Don Kinzler, Published September 13 2013

A gardener's fall to-do list

I admire northern gardeners who grow with gusto because our short, intense season.

We appreciate every blossom, berry and branch. And we know sitting on the sofa weeping about the end of the growing season is not appropriate garden-ing behavior.

Let’s take a walk around the yard to see what’s on the fall to-do list.

1. Trees and shrubs

During dry spells, soak the soil within the “drip line” of the tree canopy. Water deeply every 10 to 14 days, but don’t keep the soil constantly soggy.

Watering until soil freezes is especially important for trees and shrubs plant-ed within the past five years and for evergreens.

September and early October are great months for adding new trees and shrubs to the landscape. They won’t produce top growth, but the roots will grow until soil cools to about 40 degrees, giving a big head start for spring. Wait until spring to fertilize trees and shrubs.

Try planting oak acorns and the seeds of black walnut in the fall to watch them develop over the years. Both are best plant-ed in the desired final location.

2. Flowers

September is the month to divide, multiply or relocate peonies, daylilies and true lilies. Irises are traditionally divided in August, but September works, too.

Remember to replant these flower varieties at the same depth, no deeper, and water well afterward.

If the foliage of perennials is diseased or mildewed, cut off at ground level after frost and remove. Healthy perennial tops can be left over winter and cut back in spring. They help catch insulating snow and are sometimes decorative in the winter landscape.

Tender bulbs like gladiolus, caladiums and tuberous begonias should be dug about the time of the first light frost and readied for winter storage.

Hardy spring-flowering bulbs such as tulips, hyacinths and daffodils should be planted now until mid-October. Water well. The bulbs need to produce roots before the soil freezes solid so it’s best not to plant too late.

Seeds of annual flowers, such as four o’clock, cleome, marigolds, sweet pea, morning glory, nasturtium and zinnia, can be collected when flower heads are dry and about to shatter.

Non-hybrid seeds can be planted again in March and April.

3. Vegetable garden

Rhubarb can be divided or moved now. Portions of the plant can be dug while leaving part in place undisturbed.

It’s tempting to ease up on late season weed control. If your garden is any-thing like ours, there are a few weeds that managed to slip by. The common weed purslane can produce over a million seeds from a single plant, and the seeds can remain viable in the soil for up to 25 years. Since the last thing I need is a million more purslane weeds in our garden, may-be I should keep weeding.

Weeds containing seed heads should be carefully removed from the garden rather than pulled and left in place to shatter.

To start a new garden spot or expand an existing, Roundup can be applied to lawn grass now and then rototilled in two weeks.

Fall is a great time to add compost or manure to gardens.

Seeds from some vegetables can be collected for next year’s crop. Non-hybrids and vegetables like tomatoes that are self-pollinated will generally “come true” from seeds.

4. Lawns

When lawns are green and actively growing, fall is an important time for an application of fertilizer and herbicide. Mowing height should be maintained throughout the remaining season.

5. Houseplants

If you’ve given your plants a summer vacation outdoors, it’s time to move them in before night temperatures drop into the mid-40s since most are of tropical origin and can be chilled even without frost.

Washing the foliage with a spray from the garden hose will help remove spider mites and other insects.

If repotting is necessary, it’s usually easier outdoors.

It’s a good time to purchase new houseplants. They are easier to transport before cold whether necessitates wrapping them and risking chill injury.

Geraniums from outdoor planters can be cut back to about 3 or 4 inches above soil, potted up and grown on a sunny window sill indoors as a blooming houseplant, just like grandma did. Herb plants can be grown the same way.

6. Planning Ahead

Great ideas for next season’s success, such as unique flower combinations seen around the community, can be viewed or photographed.

Mary and I enjoy driving around neighborhoods to get ideas. She frequently suggests we write them down. Being a guy, I’m positive I’ll remember, so why waste time writing?

Fast forward to next spring: “Hey Mary, what was that flower combination we wanted to try?”

On second thought, may-be I will start a gardening journal.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler’s Greenhouse in Fargo. Readers can reach him at forumgrowingtogether@hotmail.com