As my mother grew older, she started making lists of things for me to do. I found this a little irksome because after all, I was an adult with two young sons.
However, now that I am getting older, I am making my own to-do lists. I am currently working on a list of chores that must be done before the weather turns nasty and cold. Here is what I have so far:
Garden cleanup: My container gardens are tired and haggard looking. I know that any day, frost will be finishing them off, so first on my list is cutting them back and removing their tops. Then I will use my garden knife to dig out their roots. I am always fascinated by the sweet potato tubers left behind by the ornamental sweet potato vines. I have never tried cooking and eating the tubers, but they are the same genus and species as the culinary sweet potatoes. While the tubers are edible, they do not typically have the desirable taste and texture of regular sweet potatoes because they were bred for their attractive trailing foliage, not for eating.
As noted earlier in the year, the weed barrier fabric I used to deter weeds in my veggie garden was an epic failure. The weeds prospered and were not at all discouraged by the fabric. In fact, I think it made them bigger and stronger. The result is a patch of weeds (primarily crabgrass, prostrate spurge, and nutsedge) with a few tomato plants lost amongst them. After a killing frost, one important chore will be to get rid of these nasty weeds and the cursed landscape fabric. Unfortunately, the weeds will have left behind thousands of seeds to beget more weeds next year. I must get my hoe sharp and ready for next spring!
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Fall watering: Fall watering is always on my list of autumnal garden chores. I am making sure to get all my trees, shrubs and perennial flowers thoroughly watered one last time before the irrigation water is turned off this week. The roots of these plants can suffer injury from desiccation if the weather stays dry and mild. Fall watering is also important because drought-stressed plants are more susceptible to cold winter damage.
Later in the fall, I may have to drag out a hose to water my evergreen trees and shrubs. It is especially important to make sure they have enough water during mild fall and winter weather because they continue to lose moisture through their leaves or needles. I do not have any newly planted spring flower bulbs, trees or shrubs, but if I did, I would be paying close attention to their watering needs. Adequate soil moisture provides for root growth that will be needed to sustain growth in the spring.
Lawn care: Also on my list is getting my lawn aerated. It has not been core aerated in the last several years, and I know there are a number of areas where the soil is compacted. By removing cores of soil, aeration helps reduce soil compaction and provides for better movement of air, water and fertilizer into the grass’ root zone. Aeration is especially important in high traffic areas of the yard.
Putting away my pots: Most of my container gardens are grown in large plastic pots. They do not require any special winterization, but terra cotta and clay pots can retain water and crack or break with freezing. I am planning on removing all the potting mix from my ceramic pots and placing it in sturdy garbage bags for reuse next year. I will then clean and store the empty pots in the garage where they will not freeze.
There are more fall garden chores on my list, but these are the most urgent ones. Do you have a list too?
Marianne C. Ophardt is a retired horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.