As the garden season winds down, many may think it is time to relax. But now is the time to make a checklist of fall gardening chores.
First, fertilize the lawn. Early September and late October are the most important times to do this.
During the hot part of summer, cool-season grasses become stressed. Grass shoot and root growth slows to a stop. But as the weather cools, the grass begins to grow again, establishing new roots increasing lawn thickness. Nitrogen applied in the fall helps the grass recover from the summer stresses.
Washington State University recommends using a quality fertilizer that contains slow-release or controlled-release nitrogen, such as IBDU, sulfur-coated urea or urea formaldehyde. These fertilizers release nitrogen over an extended period of time. Fertilizers with soluble nitrogen, such as ammonium sulfate or urea, are best for late fall fertilization.
Next, take care of weeds. If you just have a few weeds, take them out with a weed digger. If the problem is serious, consider broadleaf weed killers.
For weeds like black medic, bindweed, mallow, dandelions, plantain and clover, use a combination herbicide product containing 2,4 D and MCPP. A lawn product containing triclopyr will help with tough-to-control broadleaf weeds, like oxalis, prostrate spurge, henbit, ground ivy and lawn violets.
It also is a good time to buy spring flower bulbs for planting next month after the weather cools. Keep in mind that more expensive bulbs produce bigger flowers. If your bulbs are packaged in a plastic or closed paper bag, place them in an open, well-ventilated tray in a cool (50 to 60 degrees) spot.
Wait to plant the bulbs until the soil temperature drops below 60 degrees. This temperature allows for root growth without stimulating leaf growth. Don't forget to water after planting and whenever needed during mild fall and winter weather to keep the soil slightly moist.
Other tasks include:
-- raking leaves.
-- build a compost pile.
-- divide spring and early summer flowering perennials that have become crowded.
-- cut to the ground the dead tops of perennial flowers.
-- weed and clean away plant refuse in garden and landscape beds.
-- aerate lawn if the soil is compacted.
-- give all trees, shrubs and perennials a deep watering before the water is shut off.
-- Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.