You can do a lot to prevent insect and disease buildup by giving your garden a good fall cleanup. Pull up vines and stalks and chop them up fine for the compost. This exposes over-wintering stages of insects and diseases and helps cut down on them for next year. If you’ve got the time, spade, fork, or plow the vegetable garden in fall to expose dormant stages of insects.
Sow a Cover Crop
The term “cover crop” refers to a temporary planting made to add organic matter to the soil. Cover crops hold nitrogen and other nutrients that might be lost during the winter. Their tremendous root systems loosen heavy soils, whereas the added humus will help hold the particles of sandy soils together. If you have plenty of garden space, rotate 1/3 to 1/2 of it into a cover crop for a full year. These “green manure” crops, a good substitute for barnyard manure, include oats, buckwheat, clover, and ryegrass. You can sow these and let them grow right up until freezing weather, then spade or plow them under the following spring.
Don’t hesitate to cut back perennials that are lanky and overgrown. Some are weedy and seedy, so cut them before they self sow.
Fall is bulb planting time. The subject is so vast we cannot cover it here because there are both indoor (non-hardy) and outdoor bulbs. You can learn a lot from a good, well-illustrated bulb catalog about the best varieties in your area. For outdoor plants, a good rule of thumb is that bulbs should be planted twice as deep as they are round. Don’t hesitate to write us if you have any problems for the fall care of bulbs.
Protecting Your Trees
Nurseries are plugging “fall planting” as a way to save a year on growth, and to achieve better results than spring planting. If you plant evergreens or non-evergreens in the fall, make sure the plants are well watered, then mulched. Any plants going into the winter with a dry soil will surely perish from the effects of wind and sun. Soak them well. It’s a good idea to use a wrap around trees to prevent winter scald.
Many people think summer is the only time to put on a mulch, but winter mulch is also useful. One reason evergreens experience “winterburn” or “winterkill” is strong, drying winds in winter or early spring. All evergreens lose water through their leaves from winter winds. When water lost from the leaves cannot be immediately replaced, drying out and browning of leaves takes place. Even though water is present in the soil, it may be frozen solid, and therefore unavailable to plant roots. The secret is to keep evergreens well watered right up until the snow flies.
Fall is a good time to apply a winter mulch to help retain moisture in the soil and prevent rapid temperature changes at the soil line. Put two or three inches of straw, peatmoss, cocoabean shell, buckwheat hulls, wood chips, or sawdust around the base of your shrubs. Anything you have available for a mulch will work, but you should never let evergreens go into the winter with a dry soil. Give your plants a good soaking, then apply the mulch, to trap the water in.
Another idea homeowners like is “wilt-proofing” or spraying evergreens with latex concoctions found in garden centers. These seal the pores and stop water loss. These materials are also called anti-desiccants or anti-transpirants, and are available under several trade names. Spray the top and bottom sides of leaves in late fall. Trunks of established trees can be painted with a cheap grade of latex paint, to a height of six feet. The paint reflects the sun’s rays and prevents unequal expansion, leaving cracked bark, especially on the southwest side of the trunk. This is called “Southwest injury.” Paint the bark, using the paint full strength.
Newly planted evergreens, or those in exposed windy or sunny areas can also be protected by a burlap “tent” or screen. Burlap wrapped around four posts driven into the ground does a fine job of protecting the plants from drying winds. There are new loose-weave “landscape” fabrics which may be substituted for burlap as long as they are able to withstand the rigors of stormy weather. Never wrap evergreens with plastic sheets. These trap the heat in and cook the foliage on sunny days. Even holes punched in the plastic are not enough to let the heat escape.
Evergreens next to a white house are hit twice b the sun’s rays. First, they are hit directly, then again as the sun’s rays bounce back from the white surface. Burlap or latex sprays lessen this type of injury.
Evergreens facing the west, and those next to a road, can get wind and salt damage. Salt burns cause browning, especially on the west side. This can be prevented by using burlap screens. Brown areas at the base are usually due to “dog burn.” Put a wire guard around the evergreens now to prevent dog burning. Water from leaking eaves can cause ice to form on evergreens, and the ice acts like a magnifying glass when the sun hits, scorching the foliage in cold weather. Damage shows as a bleached or strawlike color. Fix your gutters and make sure they are unplugged. Leaves can block the openings and cause water to splash over.
There’s another chore you can do in fall to prevent winter-killing. Make sure your evergreens, especially Taxus (Japanese Yews) do not catch rainwater. These evergreens are extremely sensitive to “wet feet” and will die, often within 36 hours, if water remains around the roots.
Fall is an ideal time to plant fruit trees, and to trim them. Rabbits are a real problem for young fruit trees. Protect your trees in fall by wrapping the trunk in aluminum foil or hardware “cloth” (screen). Make sure you go up two or three feet if you live where there are heavy snows and down about two inches into the soil to keep out voles (repeat, voles) and other rodents. Deer are a real problem in fall. If deer, rabbits, woodchucks, squirrels, and other animals bother your plants try this repellent: 2 whole eggs (can include shells); 2 cups coarsely chopped green onion tops; 2 cloves garlic (or garlic powder), 1 tablespoon red pepper (chili or cayenne), 2 cups water. Place all in a kitchen blender. Run on high speed until everything is liquefied. Pour into 1 gallon plastic bucket with 1 shaved cake of yellow laundry soap (found in supermarkets and sometimes called “fels Naphtha”). Fill with lukewarm water and stir. Splash by hand (wear a rubber glove) over plants. Reapply after heavy rain and every week or two. Once dry, it has no smell to humans.