From the ground up: Fall garden chores prepare lawn, garden for winter

Learn about edible landscaping and permaculture principles at event on Sunday

The urge to get out the blankets, make hot chocolate and settle by the fireplace is strong now that the temperatures have dropped. However, there is still a lot to do outside now to make next year’s bounty all the better. Linn County Master Gardener Jackie Hadenfeldt MacLaren outlines seven tasks you should add to your to-do list.

Q: What can I do now to get ready for next spring?

A: As the growing season draws to a close, consider these fall gardening activities to give you a jump start on spring gardening.

  • Make a final application of lawn fertilizer. An application of fertilizer after the turf grass foliage has stopped growing promotes root growth and early green-up next spring. Read and follow label directions.

  • After the first frost, do one final mowing. Then run the mower until the gas tank is empty to store it for winter. Sharpen or replace the mower blade so you’re ready to roll come spring.

  • Clean and examine all pots, birdbaths and outdoor statuary as you prepare it for winter. In Iowa’s harsh winters, even plastic containers will crack and clay pots will definitely shatter so protected indoor storage is your best bet. If you have a rain barrel, empty and store upside down or in a protected place.

  • Protect newly planted trees, especially fruit trees from winter damage my rabbits and rodents. Over winter, rabbits often gnaw on the tender bark and will quickly work their way completely around a tree trunk. This “girdling” frequently results in the death of the tree. Small trees with smooth, thin bark are most vulnerable. I lost a really nice crabapple one year by leaving it exposed over winter.

Surround the tree trunk with hardware cloth standing away from the trunk about 1 to 2 inches. Make sure it extends several inches above the expected snow depth. Hardware cloth is welded wire with very small square openings that forms a physical barrier to keep rabbits out. It’s available at most farm and home improvement stores.

  • You can still plant spring-blooming bulbs like daffodils and tulips up until the ground freezes so grab a few when you see them on sale. Plant at three times the bulb diameter and water well. You’ll have a pleasing display of color when the snow melts.

  • Keep watering newly planted trees up until the ground freezes, and then detach garden hoses from the faucet to prevent freezing and damaging pipes. Drain hoses and store on reels or coil and store on a flat surface to prevent kinking.

  • Inspect and repair garden tools and equipment as you prepare them for winter storage. Proper storage prolongs useful life and improves performance. Remove caked-on soil from digging tools with a wire brush, putty knife or steel wool.

Sharpen the blades of hoes, shovels and spades. Wipe metal surfaces with an oily rag or spray with WD-40. Sand rough wooden handles and wipe with linseed oil to prevent cracking. Store in a dry place.

Congratulate yourself on a job well done and imagine how good it will feel when everything is lined up and ready to go next spring.


  • Edible Forest Maze Sheet Mulching, 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday at Wetherby Park, 2400 Taylor Dr., Iowa City. Interested in edible landscaping and permaculture principles? Lend a hand at this free community mulching event. Help us keep the Wetherby Park Edible Forest Maze in shape and it will reward the community with bountiful harvests in years to come. Participants will receive a guided tour of the area to see how the fruiting trees and shrubs have grown two years after planting. We will then sheet mulch several of the garden areas. Volunteers are welcome to bring pitch forks, steel rakes, and wheelbarrows.
  • Tree Care 101 Class, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Hiawatha Public Library, 150 W. Willman St., Hiawatha. Learn the proper way to plant, water, prune with Linn County Master Gardener Wil Carew.
  • Thinking about a Home Greenhouse Class, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Cedar Rapids Ladd Library, 3750 Williams Blvd., Cedar Rapids. Linn County Master Gardener Phil Pfister will teach you what’s necessary for setting up and operating a home greenhouse including site selection, greenhouse material options, calculating heating and cooling requirements, plant care, and integrated pest management. Call 319.377.9839 for more information.
  • State and Local Planning for Water Issues Wednesday, October 30th, 7-8:30pm at the Eastside Recycling Center (2401 Scott Blvd SE, Iowa City)Dr. Mary Skopec, Stream Monitoring Coordinator at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, will give an overview of the Iowa Water Plan and discuss efforts underway to monitor streams across Iowa for pesticides, bacteria, pharmaceuticals or other water contaminants. Visit for more information.
  • Local Foods Banquet Friday, November 1st, 5-7:30pm at Squaw Creek Park Prairie Oak Lodge (4305 Squaw Lane, Marion)Iowa Valley Resource Conservation and Development is proud to host its 6th Annual Local Foods Banquet. Join the merriment to help support the organization’s mission to protect and develop local economic, natural, and social resources in ways that improve this area’s economy, environment, and quality of life. Cost: $30/person or $50 for two. Tickets can be purchased at or at the IVRC&D office (920 48th Ave, Amana).
  • Tree Planting in Clark Park, 9 to 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Clark Park in Hiawatha. Join in the morning for a tree planting demonstration and an opportunity to plant a few trees. Contact Heath Hupke at or 319.373.0650 for more information.
  • Mushroom Foray & Potluck, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Wickiup Hill Learning Center, 10260 Morris Hills Rd., Toddville. Join members of the Prairie States Mushroom Club for a fall mushroom hunt and bring a dish to share at the potluck afterwards. We’ll meet at Wickiup at 10 a.m. and search for mushrooms with knowledgeable people. At noon, we’ll return to the center for the potluck. After the meal, there will be a public program on mushrooms.

Questions on gardening, land use or local foods? Contact Michelle Kenyon Brown, community ag programs manager at Linn County Extension,

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