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By Tom Woods
Cleaning up diseased and pest-ridden leaves this fall can help prevent problems next year. Add this to your fall gardening list along with mulching, soil testing and planting. The following information is courtesy of Charlotte Glen, Pender County horticultural agent.
Fall landscape tips and tasks
Cooler temperatures make gardening and landscape maintenance much more pleasant in the fall and there are several important jobs to do at this time of the year. Tasks like cleaning up will help your landscape get off to a healthier start next season, while soil testing will let you know what nutrients your lawn and landscape need to grow strong.
Fall is also a wonderful time to plant trees, shrubs, and perennials, as well as spring blooming bulbs and hardy annuals like pansies. So enjoy the beautiful weather of the next couple of months by getting out in the yard and have some fun while caring for your landscape.
Fall is the time to give your landscape a good cleanup. In fact, cleaning up well at this time of the year will help prevent disease and insect problems next year, since many pests spend the winter sheltering in old leaves and debris left from the previous season.
Cleaning up will help remove pests from your landscape and prevent, or at least delay, their onset next season. If there are plants in your landscape that have had disease or insect problems this year, carefully clean up their fallen leaves and debris and remove it from your yard. Leaves that fall from healthy plants can be used as mulch or collected and composted.
As perennials go dormant and leave behind only dry, dead stems, cut them back to ground level. You may want to leave some standing to provide a food source for birds, particularly perennials with lots of seeds like purple coneflowers and black-eyed Susans.
Most ornamental grasses stand up well through winter, adding texture and interest to the winter landscape. It is fine to cut back ornamental grasses whenever they start to look messy.
Minimal pruning to remove only dead, broken or diseased limbs and twigs from trees and shrubs is okay to do now, but fall is not a good time for large scale pruning. Most trees and shrubs should not be pruned until late winter (February-March for our area), while spring blooming shrubs should not be pruned until after they flower.
Once all the leaves have fallen, give your landscape plantings a finishing touch by spreading a layer of mulch over top, but first check to see how deep your mulch already is. Three to four inches of mulch is perfect around most plants, but deeper levels can cause problems. If your mulch is already 4 inches deep, but you want to give it a fresh look, try raking the mulch to turn over the brighter colored layer underneath the surface.
Be careful to not pile mulch against the trunks of trees and shrubs, since this can encourage diseases and insects. When mulching over dormant perennials, simply spread a two to 3-inch layer over the ground. A few perennials have evergreen leaves. Avoid covering the foliage of evergreen perennials with mulch whenever possible.
Fall is the best time of the year to plant and transplant most trees, shrubs and perennials. Plant winter annuals like pansies, violas, ornamental cabbages and snapdragons through November. Spring blooming bulbs should be planted in November and December. Daffodils, Spanish bluebells, summer snowflake (Leucojum) and blue star (Ipheion) are all long-lived and deer resistant varieties.
Fall is a great time for dividing and replanting perennials, while trees and shrubs can be purchased and planted throughout the fall and winter. Remember to keep new plantings well-watered during their first several weeks as they get established.
Fall is a great time to soil test. The results of your soil test will be the same no matter which season you send them in, and testing now will ensure you have recommendations on hand for spring planting.
Remember, soil testing is the only way to accurately find out what your soil needs…and it is free. In the coastal plains, gardeners should soil test once every two to three years. Soil testing boxes, forms and instructions are available from any Cooperative Extension office.
Send your gardening questions or comments to: Brunswick County Master Gardener Column, P.O. Box 109, Bolivia, NC 28422, or call 253-2610. Enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope if requesting information or a reply. Answers may be printed in this column.