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Last Minute Fall Gardening
by Marg Fleming
November 11, 2001

The onset of cooler weather makes those of us who work outdoors barehanded regret our adeptness in postponing certain tasks. 
After October it is getting late to plant daffodils. Unlike tulips, these bulbs are more sensitive to winter extremes. They require ample time and fall moisture to develop a root system to sustain them through their cold dormancy. By delaying installation, an extra special effort must be made to ensure that bulb roots become firmly established before the ground freezes. Mulch is the key.
Mulch conserves moisture and discourages weeds in a summer bed. But when applied in autumn before the ground hardens, mulch can keep unfrozen soil soft long into December. Daffodils which are purchased late and face delayed planting can be given several weeks grace to develop life-sustaining roots when a mulch is plopped on top after planting. The ground around may freeze solid; meanwhile, beneath a three- or four-inch layer of protective mulch and eight inches of soil, bulbs can continue to develop strong roots into the soft, unresisting soil bed. Leave this mulch in place throughout the winter to reduce frost heaving in early spring. Bulbs will enjoy poking up through the protective blanket as warm weather returns. 
What is used as mulch? Much depends on the purpose for which mulch is applied. For a late planting of bulbs mulch is employed simply to delay freezing. However, compost, well-rotted manure or straw would be excellent in this case because as well as preventing frost penetration bulbs would receive a boost of nutrient. This form of organic protection may be left in place indefinitely until it decomposes and descends into the soil to nourish the bulb cluster. Alternatively, a piece of old plywood, evergreen boughs, or even gravel may be used as a temporary cover. If using an inorganic mulch or one that does not readily decompose, plan to feed bulbs as they emerge in spring.
Catch up on these last few gardening items before the cold weather decides to stay. Mow the lawn for the final time. Set mower blades high so grass blades stay long enough to buoy the cold, damp snow away from susceptible crowns. Be aware though that lawns left too long will mat down under snow load, causing necrotic spots in the lawn next spring. Weeds love to get started here! 
Hammer in support stakes for windbreaks that will be offered to cold-sensitive trees or shrubs in the near future. I protect my azaleas each year by enclosing them in burlap sacking. The prime factor in winter injury/death of these broad-leafed evergreens is the cold, dry wind rushing past the foliage. It draws life-giving moisture from their tissues. Stems and leaves deprived of moisture are more prone to cold injury. A few moments taken to wrap exposed specimens are well spent when the price of a replacement plant is considered. It is still early to wrap susceptible plants against cold winds, but drive in the support stakes now. Frozen ground is very unyielding!
Until the soil freezes, deciduous trees may be dug and relocated around the yard. Cold-induced dormancy makes oaks, maples, ash, beech, poplar, any tree or shrub that loses its leaves, oblivious to surgery. When removing a candidate tree, sever its roots out from the trunk at least as far as the extent of the tree’s branches. This “drip line” defines the limits of a plant’s most valuable roots. Extracting all the roots inside the drip line will ensure that the relocated specimen has been left with a reasonable amount of subterranean equipment to begin its life at the new venue.
Soften the soil at the new site by digging thoroughly. Select a strong support rod and situate in the hole after the root system has been nestled firmly. Carefully fill in around the root system with the excavated soil. This soil may be amended with well-rotted manure or peat moss and mixed thoroughly. Water the roots well several times as the soil is replaced to ensure that soil particles fill in among the roots leaving no air pockets.
Tamp around the tree gently when planted. Not a single centimeter of the trunk should be buried! It would be wise to mulch the root zone after planting to protect it from exposure during a bright, late winter day. Then secure the tree to its support. In spring, do not expect prolific stem growth. Most of the relocated tree’s energy will be devoted solely to the establishment of roots. Be patient. 


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