GARDENING IN IOWA

It's not winter yet; there's still plenty of fall chores

Regis Middle School seventh grader Sean Deegan lays in a pile of leaves at the home of Dennis Neuweg in northeast Cedar
Regis Middle School seventh grader Sean Deegan lays in a pile of leaves at the home of Dennis Neuweg in northeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Friday, Oct. 31, 2014. One hundred thirty five sevenths graders raked leaves and cleaned up 20 yards as a service day to benefit the Catherine McCauley Center. Residents of the homes where the students worked, donated food to the center's food pantry as payment. This is the 14th year that students have gone out into the neighborhood surrounding the school. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Forget about that early snow. It’s not winter, at least not yet. And your yard needs you go get out there and clean it up.

For some of us, of course, we’re still trying to get out from under damage from the derecho. Getting rid of down trees, broken branches and brush piles should still be job one. But even with storm damage, there are still those fall putting the garden to bed chores you should consider.

Fall Planting

• You can plant spring-blooming bulbs from now through the end of October or so. Be sure to buy top-quality, full-sized bulbs (that rules out most econo-mixes you see in discount and big box stores).

• If you have planted any new trees or shrubs in the past two or three months, be sure to protect it with tree wrap, chicken wire through early spring. Rabbits and deer love tender new plants and can strip it bare, severely damaging or killing it.

Lawns and Leaves

• Fall is a great time to plant new grass, but it’s too late to do that yet this year. Wait until spring.

• Rake leaves as needed. Leaves can suffocate grass. However, if leaves are collecting in flower beds and borders, consider leaving them. It’s nature’s own winter mulch.

• Do a final mowing. Then maintain your mower. Run your power mower to empty the gas tank for winter. Check your owner’s manual (or go online) to see if any filters need to be cleaned or replaced and what, if anything, should be done with any oil that is added to the mower.

• Sharpen the blade or take it in to be sharpened. Even with our softer grasses and shorter growing season, mower blades should be sharpened annually.

Fall Cleanup

• If you don’t already have a compost pile, start one. It’s a great way to dispose of yard waste in an environmentally friendly way and compost is the ideal fertilizer and soil amendment.

• Pull up all annuals.

• Cut back perennials damaged by the frost, but leave those up that have interesting shapes and seed heads, especially sedums and ornamental grasses. Leave purple-coneflower seed heads up for the goldfinches. The job will go faster and easier with a power hedge trimmer. You can buy an electric one for around $30 and it makes the job a breeze.

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• Dig up and store indoors any tender bulbs, such as gladiolus, cannas, dahlias and caladiums, that you want to store over the winter.

• Empty all pots and store indoors for the winter. In Iowa’s harsh winters, even plastic and concrete containers will crack and clay pots will shatter.

• Keep on weeding. Get weeds now and save yourself work in spring.

• Detach, drain and store garden hoses.

Winter Preparation

• Perennials and strawberries do best with 1 to 4 inches of a loose, removable mulch over and around them. Leaves chopped by running a mower over them are perfect. You can use straw, but it often distributes seeds into the flower bed. Remove in spring when plants start to send out new growth.

• Protect roses. Avoid cutting back roses (never use those white cones — they can actually harm roses). Roses tend to survive the winter better with as much of their plant material intact as possible. However, if there are long canes that will whip in the wind, cut them back somewhat. Then mound all but rugosa roses around the base with 8 to 12 inches of compost or rich, dark soil to protect the bud union (right above the roots) from the cold.

Hybrid teas, grandiflora, and floribunda roses — the least cold hardy types — are more likely to survive winter if you also wrap their stems in burlap and twine.

• If you have tender plants that are perennials in warmer climates, you can experiment with bringing them indoors for the winter. Hibiscus, jasmine, rosemary, citrus trees and others will often survive winter if brought indoors and given a sunny site or under a grow light. However, equally critical is protection from drafts and adequate humidity. Set the plants on a tray filled with pebbles and water to increase humidity, and keep in a room that is cool, ideally around 50 degrees.

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

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