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Published: Saturday, 11/1/2008

Fall chores: Cleaning up after summer s show

BY KELLY HEIDBREDER
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE
Volunteer Molly Burr of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., helps get the grounds of Toledo Botanical Garden ready for winter. Volunteer Molly Burr of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., helps get the grounds of Toledo Botanical Garden ready for winter.
HERRALLONG / TOLEDO BLADE Enlarge

Once Jack Frost has made his visit to southeast Michigan and northwest Ohio, you will see your annuals turn black and perennials turn yellow. That s your cue to start your cleanup attack.

When it comes to flowers, Andrew Zepeda of WVKS-FM, 92.5, said his wife, Michelle, carries the load. He said his wife s flowers grew like gangbusters this summer.

When you turn on our street you can see the bright pink flowers in front of our house, he said. It s the first splash of color you see in our neighborhood and it looks great. I give the credit to her.

Now it is time for Mr. Zepeda to help his wife out and get those annuals pulled out of the ground and tossed on the compost pile. Matthew Ross, Toledo Botanical Garden horticulturist, says annuals are the first to go. You can cut them down to the ground, or just pull them out of the soil, he said.

Cut off any dead or limp stems, including perennials. Carefully rake out all yellow and brown leaves and pull all the weeds you can get your hands on. Discard all twigs and other debris. Throw out all broken yard decorations and clean the pots that previously held the annuals.

Prune back some shrubs, such as beauty berry and butterfly bush. Wait to prune other shrubs until late winter. But leave early-blooming shrubs such as lilac and magnolia until after they flower.

Ornamental grasses and red twig dogwoods can be left alone for the winter. They will give you something pretty to look at when the rest of the world is covered under a blanket of snow.

Mr. Ross said it s not too late to plant trees. We ve been busy planting about 60 trees and shrubs over the last few days. We ve topped them all with about three inches of compost to make sure they don t go into winter under stress.

Bulbs and tubers

TBG staffers and Toledo Zoo gardeners are like busy bees, planting bulbs that will bloom in the spring. Nancy Bucher, assistant director of horticulture at the Toledo Zoo, said you can continue to plant as long as you can work the soil. There s plenty of time in the season left to plant bulbs, Ms. Bucher said.

Mr. Ross added, For a formal look, keep uniform spacing between bulbs in a large space. If you want them to look more natural, you can plant them closer together. Because they plant so many bulbs, his crew uses a three-inch auger bit installed on a hammer drill to get through the clay soil.

Some bulbs can handle winter s deep freeze. In fact, they need it to bloom. You can start planting spring bulbs such as tulips, crocus, and daffodils in those bare spots around your landscape border.

Don t just plant one bulb in an area. Plant them in groups of five to 12 at a time to give your garden a punch of spring color.

Some roots aren t round bulbs, but more of a flat root mass. These are called tubers. The root system for beautiful flowers such as dahlias and cannas are called tubers and they don t like the frigid cold. Gardeners at the Toledo Zoo are already digging tender tubers out of the ground, drying and labeling them for next year.

After the foliage has turned black or yellow from frost, dig cannas and dahlias out of the ground. Leave about three inches of the stem and check the root for any soft spots that is a clue that it is diseased. Look for any holes that could be a home for grubs or other insects. Toss out anything that is damaged. Leave the healthy roots to dry for a few days on newspapers in a cool, dry place.

Wrap each in dry newspaper or a box filled with peat moss, or pack them in paper sacks labeled with the color and height of each tuber. Store them in a cool, dry place until the threat of frost is lifted in late spring.

Fall vegetables

Your tomatoes, peppers, squash and other garden goodies may have taken a frosty hit over the last two weeks. We have had a couple of nights with a good frost to knock down some of the weeds. It also knocks down the foliage in our garden. Soon you will see the effects of the season s killing frost, and that triggers the fall cleanup routine.

Harvest all of the tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, peppers, and gourds growing in your garden. Green tomatoes will ripen in a sunny window. Herbs such as chive, rosemary, thyme, parsley, sage, and oregano can be repotted with new potting soil and taken inside for the winter if you have a really sunny window or grow lights.

Mr. Ross recommends planting a cover crop on top of your garden. Cover crops for winter, like winter wheat, buckwheat, and winter rye will add organic matter for the next growing season and will keep the soil in place for next year, he said.

Fall lawns

If you are going to fertilize your lawn one time a year, this is it. The teams at TBG and the Toledo Zoo say this is one of the most important tasks of fall gardening. A slow-release winterizer will carry your lawn through the winter and green it up quickly in the spring.

Watering your lawn is important to keep the roots hydrated for winter, but it is also crucial to water your lawn in the early morning, not late evening. The sun will dry off the blades of grass and prevent bacteria from growing and causing problems next year.

Mr. Ross said it is time to give your lawn one last trim. Make sure you don t use a fertilizer with a lot of nitrogen. You want a slow-release winterizer that is designed to feed the lawn for the spring, he said. Mow it shorter than you usually do, down to two inches. This will give the bacteria less surface to cling to and may cut off some existing disease before winter.

And one last task: Ms. Bucher said if the compost is ready in your home compost pile, use the decayed debris to top-dress all of your plants and the lawn. If trees are just starting to drop their leaves, you can mulch the leaves right into the lawn. Don t bag them until they get too thick to mow, through. This layer of chopped leaves will act as compost for your turf and become gourmet food for it all season long. Grass clippings should be mulched right back into the turf, too. They are a good source of nitrogen, and even better they are free.

Contact Kelly Heidbreder at: kheidbreder@theblade.com.



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