The lone voice of horticultural reason

Season’s End

Gardeners have different ways of knowing when the growing season is over. Some adhere to a strict date on the calendar, and knock off on the exact day that heralds the arrival of fall. Others take it year to year, and continue gardening for however long the sun’s warmth allows. Still others proceed “as if” until their internal clocks tell them pointedly-usually on a Saturday morning, just after breakfast-that there’s really no harm in packing it in for the year.

I wait until I come into the house having taken care of a few early-morning gardening tasks before work, only to discover that my fingers are so cold they hurt in a warm shower. That’s happened twice in the last week, so I guess this really is the end.

Here are a few end-of-the-season chores to accomplish in October:

Water your trees and shrubs, right up until the ground freezes. Sometimes this means watering through November. The trees I’m primarily talking about are any kinds that flower in the spring-crabapples, pagoda dogwoods, those fabulous hardy magnolias that more and more Minnesotans are planting, but also includes any non-flowering deciduous or coniferal tree planted this year or last. Older, established, non-flowering trees may be allowed to fend for themselves.

Trees planted this year or last need watering once a week. It’s not much of a chore: simply lay a hose, preferably with a watering wand attached, at the base and let it run. If the tree was planted properly, with a mild indentation around it, the water will pool across the top and sink in. If you had some big trees planted this year, say ten- or fifteen-foot oaks, maples, spruce or white pines, letting the hose run for half an hour is not too long. Then be sure these trees have a healthy six inches of shredded bark around them. Fall triggers new root growth in trees, a fact surprising to some. Be sure this new root growth is rewarded.

Same principle with shrubs. Rhododendrons and azaleas have already set their buds for next spring’s bloom, but you’ll be disappointed by their performance if they are allowed to dry out between now and the first hard freeze. Shrubs in the two- to six-foot range need from five to fifteen minutes of watering per shrub for the act to do them any good. I water my trees and shrubs every weekend in the fall during Vikings games, rising at commercials, time-outs and touchdowns to move the hose.

Now is when we lower the lawnmower down two notches from summer height, cutting the grass very short so it winters with the least chance of molds or fungi come spring. I don’t bag clippings in the summer, but I do use the bagging attachment in the fall. The only reason I own a bagging mower is that I can mow once a week from now on and usually keep up with the leaves as they begin their fall descent.

The shredded mixture of leaves and grass is the perfect product with which to start a new compost pile. I emptied seven bags into an empty compost bin today, and will let the grass in the mix dry until next weekend. Then on Saturday morning I will sprinkle a handful of lawn fertilizer on this first layer, and water it for five minutes with the hose. By Sunday I will have added the next seven bags, and by November will have a full, hot compost bin well on its way toward serving me in the future.

Don Engebretson
The Renegade Gardener