Maintaining gardens and yards during the fall season

For starters, fertilizing in fall will repair any damage that happened to your lawn over the summer. Turnips, kale and Asian greens and taste better when they ripen in fall because of the cool fall weather.
For starters, fertilizing in fall will repair any damage that happened to your lawn over the...
For starters, fertilizing in fall will repair any damage that happened to your lawn over the summer. Turnips, kale and Asian greens and taste better when they ripen in fall because of the cool fall weather.(Don Kinzler)
Published: Sep. 22, 2021 at 4:05 AM CDT
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FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - Today is the first day of fall and many of you are probably wondering how you can take care of your yards and gardens during this season.

According to North Dakota State University’s Extension Agent Don Kinzler, for starters, fertilizing in fall will:

  • Repair any damage that occurred to the lawn over summer.
  • Lead to a thicker turf and a stronger root system this fall.
  • Help the turf to tolerate stresses such as drought, diseases and winter.
  • Lead to a quicker green-up next spring.

A fertilizer bag has three numbers, indicating the percentages of nitrogen, phosphate, and potash. Nitrogen is the most important nutrient. Look for a fertilizer with at least 25% nitrogen. Select a fertilizer that contains some slow-release nitrogen (sulfur-coated urea, urea formaldehyde and IBDU). This will gradually feed the lawn this fall and next spring.

The second number, phosphate, is abundant in our soils and is rarely needed in established lawns. The third number, potash, will help our lawn to tolerate stresses, including our winters. Most winterizer fertilizers contain 5–10% potash.

Early autumn is the best time to plant bulbs. Gardeners can delay planting until the ground freezes, but earlier planting leads to stronger roots and healthier growth in the future. Tulips demand a well-drained soil. A good tip is mixing in an inch of organic matter (peat moss, compost) to the bed before planting. Set tulip bulbs about eight inches deep. Sprinkle a bulb fertilizer containing timed-release nitrogen over the soil surface and work it in. A garden fertilizer such as 5–10–10 can be used as a substitute. Bonemeal is not recommended since it is not a complete fertilizer and attracts varmints that dig up the bulbs. Water the bulbs thoroughly to start them growing.

Annuals are used for their continuous flower color throughout most of the growing season. Perennials are used for their permanence in the landscape setting, offering specific periods of bloom, relatively low maintenance and wide adaptability. While annuals are started anew each growing season, perennials usually can be divided in the spring or fall. These new divisions can be replanted or given to a friend or neighbor. With North Dakota summers being so unpredictable, putting out transplants after killing frost threats have passed usually is a good idea. Late August through early September is the best time for planting bare-root peonies in North Dakota. Early fall planting allows roots to become established before cold weather. Three to five healthy buds (eyes) per root are desirable.

Kinzler says most people hate turnips, but that’s because we grow them at the wrong time of the year. Turnips, kale, Asian greens, and many other crops taste better when they ripen in fall. The cool nights of autumn increase the sweetness of the vegetables. Sow your radishes in August and they will develop bulbs during the cool nights of September. The radishes will be crisp and mild.

To plant a fall garden, begin by removing any debris from the vegetables that have stopped producing. Then replenish the soil with a light layer of compost or peat moss. A light application of fertilizer will also restore the soil’s fertility. Sow your seeds when the soil is moist. Use early maturing cultivars that will ripen before our first hard frost, which is typically September 25th through October 5th. The soil is warm this time of year. Gardeners may wish to lightly mulch the soil with some straw or dried grass clippings. Weeds are less of a problem in fall plantings.

Many cultivars are ready to be picked now. If you are not sure, an apple is ready for picking when its background skin color turns from green to yellow (middle photo). The fruit comes off easily when harvested.

Use an upward and twisting motion when harvesting fruit. Do not yank down on branches. This can tear off the knobby, branch spurs (shown near the fruit stem in middle photo), where next year’s fruits will come. Apples on trees can tolerate temps approaching 26°F before frost damage occurs. If they freeze on the tree, wait for the fruits to thaw before harvesting. Frozen fruits should be used promptly. Store fruits in a cool (34–40°F), humid (90% RH), dark place. A refrigerator is best, but a root cellar or unheated garage is acceptable.

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