The weather is changing, and it may be difficult to know how best to take care of your lawn or garden. These seasonal tips should help as the temperature begins to drop.
The most pressing duty now is to keep leaves from packing and smothering grass. Last year, it turned cold quickly and turned wet, so many folks struggled with this. I did much of my leaf removal in the warm spell around Christmas (your professional garden writer might be a garden slacker sometimes!). Many people mow the leaves, effectively chopping them up where they'll sift into the canopy. To do this, you may need to mow them several times; try blowing the leaves such that you mow over them again and again. If collecting whole leaves, consider storing them for use as mulch in a vegetable garden. Chopped leaves are wonderful mulch for a wider range of applications, but they tend to degrade quicker.
I am frequently called or visited by individuals disgruntled with their lawn service company. I always caution them by saying "consider how much time it takes to maintain a high quality lawn; you get out of it what you put in with time and money." A good way to assess the time and effort needed for a lawn is to review University of Missouri's publication 'Cool-Season Grasses: Lawn Maintenance Calendar' or the companion publication on Zoysiagrass Lawns.
Do you have the time and energy to do all those advised practices?
With the arrival of October, consider planting spring bulbs among hostas, ferns, daylilies or ground covers. As these plants grow in the spring, they will hide the dying bulb foliage. Cannas and dahlias can be dug when frost nips their foliage. Allow the plants to dry under cover in an airy, frost-free place before storage.
Late fall is considered the ideal time for fertilizing trees. It can be beneficial to review why one is fertilizing to begin with — to maintain reasonable vigor so plants withstand environmental stresses and pests. Minimal fertilization is suggested until a tree is well established. After that, new growth of 9-12 inches is recommended, increasing or reducing fertilizer to maintain this. Correct site selection will reduce fertilizer needs as the tree will grow more. Mature trees often require no fertilizer, as nutrients cycling occurs.
To increase nutrient cycling, maintain as large a mulch area around the tree as possible and leave grass clippings on the lawn. Surface application of fertilizer is used by most. Applying fertilizer in holes is employed for problem situations and difficult soils, and should be researched so the correct technique is used.
Plan for next year's tree and shrub plantings now. You can plant trees and shrubs, and their roots will grow some through the winter. However, the time period to plant is tight (before Thanksgiving) and the supply is also often limited.
In addition to looking through catalogs and other resources to determine what to plant, also consider working up the soil, as long as we don't have saturated conditions. I am often surprised how novice growers don't realize that proper soil preparation is 75 percent of the work and a key to success. Why wait until the spring? If organic amendments need to be made and the area raised for beds or mounded for trees, this is an ideal time; it will make spring planting so much quicker.
Rosemary can be successfully overwintered. If one doesn't have an excellent protected location, then protect with a large, white rose cone. Similar to an evergreen, its photosynthetic process stays active through the winter, albeit much slowed; thus the protection needs to allow some light through. If not using a rose cone, double insulate as discussed above with leafy vegetables.
Bring in herbs like French lavender, lemon verbena or rosemary (that you don't winter protect). It is easier to successfully do this if they are kept in pots. One can submerge the pots into the soil if wanting them naturally located in a landscape, but by keeping in pots the relocation will be much less traumatic to the root system. Keep these types of herbs cool and dry through the winter in as sunny of location as possible.
James Quinn is a horticulture specialist for University of Missouri Extension active in the central area of the state. He is an avid gardener and enjoys his position to provide advice and programming in horticulture.