October 14, 2010 at 8:37 a.m.

Putting the garden and yard 'to bed'

Putting the garden and yard 'to bed'
Putting the garden and yard 'to bed'

Summer may be over, but there is still plenty of yard work to do! Spending a crisp, sunny day in your yard is a worthy way to get exercise and vitamin D before the dark days of winter.

One chore that many people forgo is watering newly-planted trees. Trees need at least once inch of water per week until the ground freezes to increase winter survival rates. Keep a rain gauge to record rain amounts. When necessary, water young trees liberally every 7-10 days. Saturate the soil with a slow-running hose near the "drip line", the area under the branches, to soak the entire root zone. Don't be tempted to water lightly and frequently in autumn or summer. This can be detrimental to the root system and can cause the roots to remain near the tree, instead of growing extensively out into the surrounding soil. Roots that do not grow out will not anchor the tree as well and the tree may tip or be uprooted by strong winds.

Proper fall watering can help prevent browning and dessication injury of evergreen trees as well. Sun and cold wind cause pine, spruce, arborvitae and yews to transpire and lose water through the needles. They're unable to replenish as the roots are frozen. Late-season watering and mulching can help prevent some stress on the tree.

Young and thin-barked trees (maple, honey locust, linden, plum, apple, mountain ash and crabapple) are susceptible to sunscald. This occurs in late winter when the sun gets stronger, thus stimulating the cambial tissue to become active. When the temperatures dip at night, the active tissue is damaged. This can result in a splitting wound or "canker", that can decay, lead to a weak trunk and leave the tree vulnerable to disease. Depending on the severity, this can kill a tree. Lightly-colored plastic tree guards reflect the sun and keep trunk temperatures more constant. Cover trees in November and remove in early spring before moisture causes fungal damage. Young trees can be covered for at least two winters; thin-barked trees can be covered for at least five winters.

Mulching trees with 3-4 inches of wood chips or shredded bark will prevent soil temperatures from fluctuating and keep moisture in soil. Mulch should stay away from base of the tree for necessary air circulation. If mulch touches the tree, it can cause rotting and fungal problems. In essence, don't create a "mulch volcano" instead think "mulch donut"!

Fall bulbs should be planted as soon as possible to encourage the development of strong roots before soil is frozen. Tulips, daffodils and other bulbs need to be watered if rainfall is sparse. Add several inches of mulch to help insulate bulbs and to keep them safely dormant during any late winter warm ups.

Empty and clean all flower pots as freezing and thawing will crack containers, especially those with soil. Add potting soil and roots to compost pile. Dispose of, burn or bury all vegetable plant material from garden after harvest. Remember that most fungi survive winter within infected plant material if left in garden. Pathogens that cause potato blight and tomato anthracnose, for example, may persist in the soil or on leaves. In spring, spores will cause new infections. Caveat: material placed in a compost pile will not decompose before spring.

Make note of where vegetables were planted in your garden and keep notes for spring planning. Practice crop rotation each year to prevent infections.

Clean birdhouses in late autumn and remove old nesting material. Scrub birdfeeders and houses with a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water. This will prevent diseases and remove any parasites. Allow to dry completely. Birds will rely more on bird feeders in late fall and winter since food is not as plentiful to find. Enjoy visits from cardinals, chickadees and nuthatches in the months to come while journaling about next year's yard and garden plans!


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