The Garden Guru: The season’s not over yet

Posted Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Somebody asked me several days ago if it was too late to plant Bermuda seed, and I had to answer, “Yes. By five or six weeks.” There’s a time for everything, and I’ve made a hard-and-fast list of 20 things that are timely right now. You might want to scan down through them.

Fall landscaping. It’s the best time of the entire year to plant trees and shrubs around your house. Nurseries are well stocked, and it gives the plants maximum time to get established before summer.

Plan for daffodils, grape hyacinths and summer snowflakes. Put tulips and Dutch hyacinths in the refrigerator at 45 degrees for a minimum of 45 days. Plant them into the landscape toward the end of December. Comparatively close and massed plantings give the best show.

Dig and divide spring-flowering perennials. This is your time to separate plants that have become crowded, and to share plants with and from friends. Included in the list: iris, daylilies, Shasta daisies, violets and coneflowers.

Dead-head old perennial foliage and seed heads as they turn brown. Eventually you’ll want to trim them completely to the ground.

Prune to remove dead or damaged branches from trees and shrubs, before the healthy branches start losing leaves. Other than light reshaping, save all other pruning for later.

Remove rose plants that are infected with the incurable and highly contagious rose rosette virus. It causes clubby shoots whose buds do not open properly. If you’re unfamiliar with the disease, look it up online and compare photographs. Don’t think that you can prune to remove it and save your plants. You’ll serve as the source of infection for the rest of your neighborhood.

Plant pansies, pinks, snapdragons, and ornamental cabbage and kale into freshly prepared and well-draining garden beds. They require full or nearly full sunlight.

Cut back on the water you’re giving your lawn and landscape. With water shortages seemingly unending, it’s imperative that we all take responsibility. You may be able to go several weeks between waterings over the winter, especially if we begin to get occasional rains.

Keep mowing at the same height as you’ve been mowing all summer. Letting the grass grow tall does not improve its winter hardiness. In fact, it weakens the grass.

Keep tree leaves picked up off your lawn. The easiest way is to use a grass catcher on your mower and simply to bag them. They’re outstanding mulches around perennials and shrubs, or you can put them into the compost pile. Do not send them to the landfill.

Mulch your beds to protect plants from rapid changes in soil temperatures over winter. It also discourages weeds, lessens runoff and evaporation, and simply looks good.

Be on the lookout for brown patch fungus in your St. Augustine. The dead areas will be 18 to 24 inches across. If the blades pull loose easily from the runners, and if they are decayed where they should be attaching, you need to treat with a labeled fungicide. Brown patch is not fatal, but it does weaken the grass.

Apply a broadleafed weedkiller (containing 2,4-D) to eliminate clover, dandelions, chickweed and other non-grassy weeds. Treat by mid- to late November. Once it turns cold, the herbicide won’t be effective.

Deal with bare spots. Use seed grass as a temporary cover. Ryegrass planted onto lightly tilled soil at the rate of 8 to 10 pounds per 1,000 square feet will do well. Water after you sow it to put the seeds into contact with the soil.

Prepare for spring planting. If you have turf areas where you would like to plant flowers, vegetables, shrubs or groundcovers in the spring, and if you want to eliminate all existing vegetation beforehand, you’re running out of time. Apply a glyphosate-only herbicide spray soon, and allow it at least two weeks to do its job. Glyphosates do not leave residuals in the soil.

Decide which tropical plants to save. Remember that nurseries will probably restock your favorites, so unless it’s a family heirloom or a large and valuable plant of some significance, or unless you have a home hobby greenhouse, you may not want to go to the trouble of overwintering the plants indoors.

Check your greenhouse heating system. Be sure it’s functioning properly. It’s a lot easier to get the HVAC people out now than it will be the night of the first freeze.

Inspect patio pots for bugs. Before you the pots into the house for the winter, check them closely for spider mites, aphids, whiteflies and mealybugs. If you find any, address them while they’re still outdoors. Check the drain holes, too, to be sure they’re not providing safe harbor to roaches and other undesirables. If they are, letting the plants soak in a tub of water will usually rid them of the soil-borne pests.

Buy and pre-cut frost cloth to put down over your cold-sensitive shrubs and annuals. Local independent garden centers and hardware stores sell it. After you have it cut, put it into marked bags and store them in a dry spot in the garage or work shed.

Put poinsettias in the dark. If you’re trying to reflower a poinsettia, it must be getting complete and total darkness for 14 hours each night now. That triggers the flowering process, and even a few minutes’ exposure to light can delay it.

Neil Sperry publishes “Gardens” magazine and hosts “Texas Gardening” from 8 to 10 a.m. Sunday on WBAP AM/FM. Reach him during those hours at 800-288-9227.

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