GARDENING IN IOWA

Fall tips to get your garden ready for spring

Fall bulbs produce flowers that bloom in the spring. Warmer temperatures means bulbs still can be planted. (The Gazette)
Fall bulbs produce flowers that bloom in the spring. Warmer temperatures means bulbs still can be planted. (The Gazette)

Fall is the time to put our gardens to bed. Time spent now to clean up your yard saves you time in the spring, when we rush to get everything done in time. Being smart about fall cleanup also can keep your landscape healthier. And it helps it look better during the cold winter months. Even if you’re not hanging out in your yard, you (and your neighbors) are still looking at it. You might as well make it as attractive as possible through spring.

Leaves and Lawns

Do you need to rake up your leaves? It depends. Leaves left on lawns over the winter smother the grass and promote fungal disease. In beds and borders, depending on what you have planted there, the same thing can happen. However, in areas where there are only trees and shrubs or tall perennials, it’s fine to not rake leaves. They actually add nutrients to the soil. Same with vegetable gardens and other areas where you turn over the soil.

One of the best ways to get rid of leaves on your lawn is to run over them with a mower with a bag attachment. You also can rake out leaves from other parts of your garden and then run over them with your mower.

The combination of shredded leaves and grass is excellent to spread on vegetable gardens and then dig into the soil to enrich it. Or spread it over perennial flowers or edibles (such as rhubarb or asparagus) as an excellent winter mulch.

Leaves like these also are great to add to a compost pile — they break down more quickly once they’re shredded. Or, alternatively, they take up far less room in bags or bins.

Don’t have a pickup truck? You might want to invest in some of soft-sided dumpsters, available at many home improvement centers. They’re great to fill up and haul mulch, yard debris, and many other messy things you might not want to put into the back of your SUV or hatchback car.

Spring-Blooming Bulbs

Buyer beware when shopping for spring-blooming bulbs. Many bulbs sold in big discount or box stores are undersized. That means that in the spring, they’ll not perform very well, just sending up some weak shoots and very few, if any flowers. You get what you pay for. I prefer to buy bulbs either online from reputable companies that specialize in bulbs or from smaller, local, high-quality garden centers. Expect to pay about $1 per bulb for regularly (not clearance) priced larger spring-blooming bulbs, such as daffodils, tulips and hyacinths.

You can still plant spring-blooming bulbs. October is the best month to plant spring blooming bulbs. But with the warmer temperatures in late October, you can plant into the first week or two of November with good luck. It’s not optimal, but this year in the Cedar Rapids area it’s doable — and a great way to take advantage of late-season clearance sales on bulbs.

Other Fall Pointers

Should you cut down or remove dead plant foliage from flowers, perennials, herbs and vegetables in the spring or the fall? Each approach has their advantages, but certainly you should remove any plants that have had any diseases during the summer. In my own garden, all my daylilies suffered from leaf blight, the German bearded irises had a leaf spot, and the phlox — like nearly all phlox — had some powdery mildew issues. If I left those in the garden, it would just allow the disease pathogens to continue to flourish.

Diseased plants such as these should not be thrown in the compost heap or they’ll just continue to spread their disease pathogens.

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Until the ground freezes, plants still appreciate some water. If we’ve had several days without any rain, give a little extra water to new tree and shrub plantings, new bulbs, and any other new plantings.

Empty all your pots. Even those made of plastic or concrete with freeze and contract in the cold winter months and cause them to crack. Store them in a sheltered place. Or tip them upside down (you can stack them) and cover them with a sturdy plastic garbage bag or tarp so that they don’t collect moisture and are protected from UV rays.

Veronica Lorson Fowler is co-publisher of The Iowa Gardener website at theiowagardener.com.

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