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It's time to prepare your yard for next growing season

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Falling leaves and cooler temperatures may mean the end of our growing season, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to pack up your shovels and pruners and close the garage door.

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There are still tasks that need to be done before you call an end to the 2013 growing season.

Lawns and gardens always present challenges and performing certain tasks this fall will make tasks easier when spring arrives and you want to be out playing in the dirt.

Here are 10 fall chores to do now so you have a more successful 2014 gardening season.

Task No. 1:

Clean and oil all garden tools

Jackie Froemming, Crow Wing County Extension educator, said a good way to keep tools clean and oiled is to put sand in a large bucket. Add to that bucket a small amount of linseed oil and mix well. Then put your tools right into the bucket full of sand.

The sand will remove any dirt and debris from the tools. It’s also important to treat all wooden tool handles with linseed oil and to lubricate any moving parts of pliers, pruners and other cutting tools.

Froemming advised heating up a pan of water, removing the pan from the stove and putting the linseed container into the warm water. Warm linseed oil will soak into the wood faster and penetrate deeper.

Task No. 2:

Clean gardening

containers

If you have flowers or vegetables in containers, now is the time to dump out the soil and clean the containers. Froemming advised using a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water to clean the containers. “This solution will kill any micro-organisms,” she said.

Froemming does not recommend using the soil for next year’s planters because it may contain pathogens and the nutrients in the soil will most likely be used up. If you intend to re-use the soil, make sure to amend it with compost, manure or granular fertilizer, she said.

If any plants in the container appeared sickly or diseased, the soil should not be re-used.

Task No. 3:

Keep the lawn

looking tidy

Froemming said it is important to rake up leaves.

“If you leave leaves on the ground you can end up with snow mold,” she said.

Also, make sure the mower is on a low setting the last time you mow. This will also help to reduce mold. Shelly Boser of Landsburg Landscape Nursery north of Brainerd said now is the time to put down a winterizer type fertilizer on the lawn. This is the only type of fertilizer individuals should be using this time of year. It will encourage root growth and help to ensure a healthy looking lawn next growing season.

Task No. 4:

Water, water, water

Even though the lakes area has had a couple rounds of thunderstorms in the past couple of weeks, Boser said the area is still really dry.

Plants need an inch of water a week to be happy and healthy, she said.

“The happier and healthier plants are going into winter, the better the chance the plant will come up and be healthy next spring,” Boser said.

Task No. 5:

Clean flower

and vegetable beds

A little cleanup now can prevent weed and disease problems in the future. Remove any weeds and diseased plants and discard them. (Don’t compost diseased plants.)

Cut down annuals and pick up any vegetables that have fallen off of plant stems and put in your compost pile. Perennial plants can be cut down to the ground or left standing to provide fall and winter interest.

Task No. 6:

Tend to bulbs

After a frost, remove any tender bulbs such as gladiolas, cannas and dahlias. As soon as possible after the first frost loosen the soil around the plant and dig the tubers. Knock the dirt off and cut off the stem to about six inches.

Store the tubers in a cool, dry place throughout the winter months.

Task No. 7:

Plant!

Boser said fall is a great time to plant.

“The ground is still warm, the air is cool and days are shorter. There will be less watering required and plants develop a good root system,” she said.

Although there might be a smaller selection of plants available, most nurseries will have sales to try to clear out their remaining plants.

Task No. 8:

Protect tender trees

Froemming said now is the time to start protecting tender trees. Most nurseries and hardware stores sell tree guards. These are very effective in protecting young trees from getting chewed on by rabbits and small animals.

“Just make sure you get a guard tall enough so rabbits can’t reach over the top of the guard. Remember, if there are piles of snow around the tree, rabbits may be able to get on top of that and gnaw on the tree if the guard is not tall enough,” Froemming said.

Task No. 9:

Take notes and pictures

Area gardeners recommend taking notes and pictures of what worked and what didn’t work. The notes can help next year when deciding what to plant and when trying to remember which fertilizers and pesticides worked the best.

Task No. 10:

Provide last-minute TLC

Add amendments to your vegetable garden such as well-rotted manure, compost, peat or leaves. The micro-organisms in the soil and beneficial insects will help incorporate these materials into the soil.

After everything else has been done and just after the ground freezes, put winter protection over your flower beds and around tender perennials. Shredded leaves are one of the best items you can use for cover, Froemming said.

Other items that can be used over beds include hay or straw, evergreen boughs, pine needles, peat moss and cornstalks. If the area gets a lot of snow, the snow itself makes an excellent cover.

If you have questions about what to do or not do this year, there is a helpline available. Call the Extension office at 218-824-1000, ext. 4040, and leave a message. A Master Gardener will call you back.

Taking a bit of time this fall to get your yard into shape means you can start enjoying it again much earlier in the spring. Remember, fall always sets you back, but think spring!

(Donna Evans lives in Merrifield and is a freelance writer and website designer. She also owns Plants to Your Door, a landscape nursery that specializes in hostas.)

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