Documents: Special Interest: Seasonal:

Timely Fall Tasks
by Marg Fleming
by Marg Fleming

1979 - BSc. Botany University of Toronto, 1981 - MSc. Forestry University of Toronto, 1982-1986 - Horticulture Teaching Master - Niagara College , St. Catherines Ontario., 1986 - 2000 - Owner/Operator of Cedar Valley Botanical Gardens - Brighton Ontario, 2000- Present - Manager of Horticulture Toronto Zoo

Public Speaking Topics - Perennials, house plants, garden design

October 28, 2007

As fall proceeds, rain and wind pop fading leaves from their tenuous moorings. Their blades overlap when they land, creating a bright continuous blanket beneath the trees. In time, insects, fungus and other microorganisms will decompose this organic windfall and make it available once again to the roots that nourished it.

Leaves are valuable commodities. They contain the minerals that their host plant absorbed from the soil to produce them. After the leaves decompose, these minerals will become re-dissolved in water and available once again to plant roots. They will then be absorbed and delivered to aerial buds where leaves and flowers are built. Later as the season ends, leaves, fruit, and seeds will meet on the forest floor. Equipped with flight-facilitating appendages or with the enticement of tasty flesh for woodland scavengers, some fruits will travel far from the tree that bore them. This tactic could mean a more successful future for vulnerable offspring.

Next years buds have already formed on our native trees. They are nestled beneath protective bud scales that will obediently fall away as the trees absorb water and minerals once again in spring. Buds swell and foliar construction begins again.

Autumn is an ideal time for amending and repairing turf. Grass enjoys cool wet fall weather to make some sturdy growth in preparation for winter dormancy. Apply high nitrogen turf-building fertilizers now. The active roots will absorb and retain vital elements (phosphorous, potassium, and nitrogen) for use next spring. Similarly, even though trees and shrubs have lost their foliage, roots continue to absorb water and minerals until extreme cold initiates dormancy. So woody ornamentals can also be treated to a balanced fertilizer, often through November.

Peonies are heavy feeders with substantial root systems. They prefer fertilizers high in phosphorous. Fertilize peonies now even though stems touched by frost are beginning to collapse. Their roots remain active and will greedily absorb available nutrient. Don’t waste your money over-dosing peonies with high phosphorous fertilizers. Phosphorous is very tenuous in the soil and is likely to escape the immediate vicinity of your peony before the plant can nab it. Several modest applications over the entire year will make more phosphorous available to hungry plants.

Any newly-installed bulbs (tulips, daffodils, etc.) will benefit from a dose of granular fertilizer before winter. Before the ground freezes, new bulbs put on an amazing amount of root growth to support the spring bloom. Help bulb clusters by feeding through October and November.

Procrastinators who plant bulbs at the last gasp even into December should mulch bulbs heavily after planting. This delays freezing and gives an extended period for root production to take place. Note however that daffodils prefer to be planted before the end of November as they tend to be a little more cold sensitive than tulips. Tulips are the bulldogs of the spring bulb roster. They can be planted as long as the soil remains soft enough to dig.

Moles and skunks may be relieving your turf of white grubs in a last ditch effort to indulge before hibernation. Unfortunately this leaves snack tracks and holes accompanied by piles of freshly dug topsoil. These animals are pesky but not pests. They relieve turf of destructive insects that would otherwise leave vast dry brown patches of lawn in the summer, prone to weed infestation. Insecticides are no longer acceptable on a home gardening scale. The environmental cost of chemical treatments is far greater than the few dollars or minutes it would take to rake and re-seed the affected area.

Remember that October is the ideal month to plant and transplant peonies. Add them to your fall gardening schedule.


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