WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- As fall arrives, you still have time to get your landscape in good order for the winter. By taking a few steps, you can reduce the impacts of a harsh winter and insure optimal plant health in the spring:
- If you have plants to be planted – don’t wait, do it now. Ideally, new plants should be in the ground 6 to 8 weeks before hard frost.
- Ditto for dividing and transplanting plants – the time is now.
- Water any newly-planted plants until hard frost occurs. You want plants to go into winter as healthy as they can be. They will reward you in the spring.
- Look for signs of drought stress in your landscape. Are any plants flagging? Any curled or drooping leaves when it’s above freezing? Stay on top of the watering with drought-stressed plants until hard frost.
- If you don’t have time to plant, overwinter any pots of un-planted perennials or woody plants. Plants must be hardy to our region to overwinter – this won’t work with tender or tropical plants. Your goal? To insulate plant roots against cycles of freezing and thawing. Sink pots into holes in the ground, or surround them with mulch above ground.
- Prune out any dead or diseased wood in your trees and shrubs for best plant health. Fall is not a good time for harsh pruning or aesthetic pruning, which may stimulate tender, new growth at the wrong time of year – before a killing frost. If you need some pruning tips, download this helpful pruning guide from Cornell: http://www.gardening.cornell.edu/woodies/
- Resist the urge to fertilizer everything in sight, whether plants need it or not. If you have planted the right plant in the right place, you probably don’t need to fertilize. Fertilizer manufacturers try to convince us that we must fertilize regularly – it’s just not true. Fertilize when you have identified a deficiency (do a soil test to find out). When needed, stick with slow-release, organic fertilizers. Salt-heavy synthetic fertilizers can actually be very damaging to plant roots in periods of drought.
- Apply compost to your garden beds in the fall. An inch or two of good quality compost gives a “biology boost” to your soil. Make sure the compost is not steamy or smelly. After applying, water the compost in. If you are mulching, you can mix mulch and compost together, or, simply apply mulch on top of compost.
- Leave your perennials and grasses standing through the fall and winter. These plants are resources for wildlife, offering shelter, overwintering sites and sometimes food. Cut back perennials and grasses in early spring. The exception? If you have diseased plants, cut them back now and dispose of the debris (not in the compost pile).
- Leave fallen leaves in place whenever possible. If you are inundated with leaves, shred them with a mulching mower and use them in plant beds. Leaves are nature’s compost and mulch, and also offer overwintering sites for invertebrates and other critters that are part of healthy ecosystems. For more useful information on leaves, explore these terrific Weschester-based initiatives: http://www.leaveleavesalone.org/ and http://www.leleny.org/
- What to do with your lawn (the Green Desert)? Start thinking about how much lawn you really use. Make a plan for the spring to replace unused lawn with ecologically-supportive native plants, perhaps even a meadow. If you must keep some lawn, do it organically. Pick up a copy of The Organic Lawn Care Manual written by organic turf pro, Paul Tukey, for best practices.
Happy Fall and Happy Planting!
Kim Eierman, a resident of Bronxville, is an environmental horticulturist and Founder of EcoBeneficial! When she is not speaking, writing, or consulting about ecological landscapes, she teaches at the New York Botanical Garden, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, The Native Plant Center and Rutgers Home Gardeners School.
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