By Lyn Chimera, Cornell University Cooperative Extension Master Gardener
Fall weather is here, whether the calendar says fall or not. The nights are delightfully cool and some trees are changing. These changes remind us that it’s time for end-of-the-season chores.
The following are some tips on what can be done mid to late September:
• Since the nights are getting into and below the 50s, it’s time to start bringing in any houseplants you had outside for the summer. First, closely examine them for any insects, disease etc. and remove old and ratty leaves. Give them a good water bath with a soft sponge and let the water run through the soil as well. Rinse very thoroughly. It’s best to acclimate the plants slowly so the temperature and humidity change isn’t such a shock. This is best done BEFORE you put the furnace on.
• It’s also time to take in any annuals you want to winter over. Follow the same procedures as mentioned above.
• If you’re taking cuttings to propagate, you follow the same procedures as for annuals. Cuttings can be started in a vase of water or directly in potting soil. If started in water, it’s important to plant them in soil shortly after the roots start to develop. If starting in soil, rooting hormone can be helpful. Keep the cuttings moist but not wet.
• Good garden cleanup is essential to help prevent disease next season. Carefully remove and discard any leaves and stems of infected plants and remove. Do NOT compost any diseased plant material unless your compost gets hot enough and sustains this heat long enough to kill diseased materials.
• It’s not necessary to cut back all the perennials. Leaving plants with seed heads intact is good food for winter birds. The crowns and leaves of the plants also serve as a protective cover for the plants against temperature changes during the winter.
• Cut back plants, like hostas, which have leaves that turn soft and mushy. If you leave up the hostas blossom stems, you’ll know where that plant is next spring as the stems stay stiff all winter.
• Contrary to popular belief, fall is not the best time for pruning trees, shrubs and roses. Late winter and early spring are best. The exception being spring blooming shrubs like lilac and forsythia. Those should be pruned after they bloom next spring.
• If you fertilize your lawn the best time to fertilize is between Halloween and Thanksgiving. It is still possible to over seed small areas, but the nights are getting colder so I wouldn’t wait much longer.
• Now is a great time to move and divide perennials, especially ones that bloom in spring. If we don’t get much rain, be sure to keep them well hydrated.
• It’s also a good time to plant trees and shrubs. Many nurseries are having sales and there are great deals to be had. However, examine the plants carefully. An unhealthy plant is not such a bargain.
One chore at a time and you will be ready before the first real snow storm!