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Weekly Gardening Tips: Fall gardening chores

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By Bob Beyfuss

For Capital Region Independent Media

Headshot of a man named Bob Beyfuss.

It is time to work off the extra calories accumulated over the Thanksgiving weekend. Any chores you can accomplish now will give you a head start on next spring’s garden.

The ground will remain unfrozen for only a couple of more weeks, at best, in the valley towns. Avoid tilling or disturbing wet soil, as is always the case, to prevent possible, permanent, damage to the soil structure. Soils with high clay content are most susceptible to damage from trying to work them when they are wet. Sandy soils are a bit more forgiving, since sand particles do not clump together or compress as clay does. If you can squeeze a handful of your garden soil into a ball that holds its shape, it has a high clay content.

If you plan to buy a “living” Christmas tree that you will plant outside after the holidays, as a more or less permanent addition to your home landscape, you need to dig the hole now and save the excavated soil. If you have rose bushes, you should also dig up a pail of soil and stash it someplace where it will not freeze solid. You need the soil to mound around the base of the bush to protect them from winter freezes.

Roses are unlike most of your other woody shrubs since they don’t really go into a fully dormant state. They just quit growing when the weather gets cold. Wait until mid-December for this job.

If you have not already done so, dig up gladiolas, canna, dahlias and tuberous begonias. Allow the roots, bulbs or tubers to dry out, cut off the tops, shake off excess soil and store in baskets of dry peat moss or sawdust in the basement.

As those plants exit, plant some spring flowering bulbs in their place if you can find any to buy!  Plant the bulbs with the top of the bulb positioned at twice the depth of the width of the bulb. A 3-inch-thick tulip bulb should be planted 6 inches deep in a hole that is 8 inches deep. Plant them as close to the house as possible to enjoy the view next spring. Sprinkle some bone meal and dry blood meal into the planting holes. A tablespoon of each will suffice, as will a tablespoon of 5-10-10.

Rake back the mulch at the base of fruit trees and wrap the trunks with hardware cloth, or use plastic tree guards to protect the trunks from rodents.

Pests such as apple tree and peach tree borers lay eggs at the base of the trunk. Removing the mulch exposes the eggs to cold, which often kills them. If you had peach leaf curl this season, spray the bare branches of your peach trees with almost any fungicide right now to prevent the disease next year.

After that chore, winterize your sprayer by squirting some antifreeze through the hose and allow the sprayer to drain, as best as you can.

Rake up and compost the fallen leaves from all your fruit trees. If it should stop raining, continue to water any trees or shrubs you planted this spring or summer, right until the ground freezes.

Now is not a good time to prune woody plants in general since they need to use their energy to go fully dormant and pruning makes them try to deal with wounds. You can prune dead wood off the tree whenever you see it, though.   

Right now you can fertilize trees that are not growing as well as you would like, but there is really no need to fertilize trees and shrubs that are growing satisfactorily. Old, declining, yard or street side trees and old fruit trees can sometimes be majorly revitalized by this tactic.

Measure one pound of 5-10-5 fertilizer per inch of tree circumference and broadcast the total amount evenly in circles beneath the crown of the tree beginning about 6 feet away from the trunk and extend it about one-third beyond the dripline of the crown.

You can also hammer in “tree food spikes,” but this is a pretty expensive way to apply fertilizer. Organic fertilizers, such as dried blood or cotton seed meal, can also be used. Dried blood is about 12% to 15% nitrogen, so use one-third as much as you would 5-10-5.

Cut down spent raspberry canes and thin the new shoots to 4 inches apart, top the canes at 18 inches or so. Wait to prune blueberries and grapes until spring. Cover strawberry rows with 3 or 4 inches of clean straw. Cut off asparagus tops at ground level as soon as they turn yellow and apply 6a inches of maple leaves as a top mulch.

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