Autumn Chores |

Autumn Chores

Joel M. Lerner, APLDSpecial to The Washington Post

WASHINGTON – If pests have been a plague, rain has been too scarce and the old arthritis has been acting up, you may be relieved by the onset of fall.But autumn doesn’t necessarily bring an end to garden chores.The weather is generally good, with warm days and cool nights – ideal for plants that are focused on building strong root systems. The pests slack off or disappear, and the bright fall colors can lure us outdoors. September and October are great times to plant, divide, prune, protect and feed, and generally to get a head start on spring.Plants to install at this time of year include bulbs, perennials, trees and shrubs. Many perennials and deciduous trees and shrubs show the most vigor in their first year when planted this month.To divide and transplant perennials, dig up or slice off large pieces of roots, three to five inches around and, depending on the depth of your roots, four to eight inches deep. Dig a hole, add compost to the existing soil, place the division into the soil, and water it.You can also divide the pips, bulbs, corms, roots or rhizomes by hand, carefully cutting where necessary. This yields more plants and can, as in the case of daylilies, irises and dahlias, produce larger, showier flowers. Divide dense stands of lily of the valley every three to five years for best flowering.If your perennials are blooming now, wait until March or April to divide them. Autumn Joy sedums, asters, ironweeds, boltonias and chrysanthemums are a few perennials that should wait for early spring to be divided and transplanted.Daffodils can be planted now. November is a better time to plant tulips. As the soil cools and we get first frost, dig up tender bulbs, such as dahlias and canna lilies, and store them to grow again in March. Keep them at a minimum of 37 degrees Fahrenheit. Stored tubers should be cleaned of soil and stored in a cool, dry location to discourage fungal infections. Store in vermiculite or dry peat in paper bags, in a cool space such as a garage, basement or crawl space.Roses get their best beginning if planted in November and mulched well with shredded bark, compost or other material. Garden centers are already slimming down their stock for winter.Go mail order. Prepare rose beds now, while you wait for the stock to arrive. Dig three feet wide and deep for each rose to ensure good drainage. Water roots well when planting and during dry conditions. Keep the graft on hybrid roses just above soil level.Planting vegetables now can yield excellent crops of cool-weather plants such as spinach and kale, Brussels sprouts and cabbage, turnips, carrots, and lettuce.Fall is also a good time to plant deciduous shrubs and trees. Spruces, pines and most other conifers overwinter fine if installed now. Success is more assured for broadleaf evergreens, such as hollies and azaleas, by planting in late winter or early spring before growth begins.To prepare your site, dig a wide area. Add 30 percent organic material, and incorporate it through a wide and deep area. Feeder roots spread horizontally over a long distance, and even the largest hardwoods absorb nutrients from the top two feet of soil. Once the area has been prepared, dig a hole. Place the ball so that the flare at the base is several inches above or at the soil line. Don’t mulch against the flare or let any soil pile against it higher than an inch or two, or it could rot bark, increase susceptibility to disease and insects, and interrupt nutrient circulation. Set the root ball on undisturbed or packed soil so it doesn’t settle.Keep trees and shrubs perpendicular and on firm soil. If the roots are wrapped in burlap, fill the hole about one-third deep, enough to support the root ball. Then remove the ropes and pull back and fold down the burlap from the top third or more of the ball. If a tree is in an open-wire holder, bend the wire and cut into the burlap, but leave the basket on. Fill the hole, tamping the soil firmly.Water newly installed plants immediately, and soak them thoroughly. Form a basin around the edge of the root ball to catch rain and irrigation water. Water weekly if there is no rain.Joel M. Lerner is president of Environmental Design in Capitol View Park, Md. E-mail or contact him through his Web site,

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