By Natalie Boyack, Conservation Garden Park
This is a great time of year. Temperatures are cooling, leaves are changing color, and we are getting a little more precipitation. It’s also a great time to do some things in your yard that will help reduce problems and maintenance during the winter and next spring.
If you haven’t already, winterize your irrigation system. Our article from two weeks ago walked you through the steps. None of your established plants will need more water this year. If you have recently planted new trees or shrubs, especially evergreens, give them a little extra water with buckets every couple weeks or so during the winter if it is a dry year.
Mow your lawn shorter. We typically recommend cutting your lawn about three inches tall, but in fall that should be reduced to about one and a half inches. If the lawn is too long, it can flop over, holding in moisture which can lead to diseases, especially fungal issues including snow mold.
Maintain ornamental grasses
There are also some plants that can be cut back in the fall. Some ornamental grasses should be cut down in the fall, but some can be left up until spring. How do you know which?
Cool-season grasses start growing early in the spring (March) and should be cut down in the fall. That way you won’t cut the new growth in the spring. Basin Wildrye (Leymus cinereus) and Feather Reed Grasses (Calamagrostis) are two examples of cool-season grasses.
Warm-season grasses start growing later in the season (May) and can be left up through winter. They don’t start growing until after spring cleanup, and their seed heads provide a winter food source for many birds. Hardier perennials, such as cone flowers (Echinacea) can be left up through the winter for birds or can be cut to the ground in fall. Plants that might flop over onto sidewalks or driveways under the weight of the snow can be cut back as well, to make clearing snow easier.
This is also a great time to rake up the leaves that are falling from the trees. These leaves can trap moisture and can cause diseases and fungal infections as well. The more leaves you clean up in the fall, the less you have to clean up in the spring.
Organic mulches, such as compost and wood chips, need to be replenished often to keep a two- to three-inch layer. This depth helps reduce weeds and can help protect some plants—especially those that may be a little more sensitive to the cold—through winter. Just remember to keep mulch away from the trunks of trees and shrubs as it can cause the trunks to rot.
Fall temperatures are still great for working outside, but the warm weekends are rapidly coming to an end. Doing these things before it gets too cold will get your yard ready to grow in spring. You’ll be glad you did.