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Tending to fall chores gives jump start for spring garden

Published October 22, 2004

Tending to fall chores gives jump start for spring garden

Some of us still have storm debris in our yards, despite the best efforts of the city and county. A huge thanks to those who are cleaning it up. And a reminder to those stashing twigs and branches on the shoulders of the road: You could create a traffic hazard as rivers steer around them.

I, for one, am thinking ahead to cooler weather and my next big yard project.

I have a large bed on the east side of the house that was my daughter's garden and is still full of a menagerie of flowering plants. The width of the side yard and the shape of the bed make it a bit of a challenge to mow around, so I'll simplify the area by removing the sod and putting down stepping stones.

The first task will be scalping the sod, then spraying with an herbicide. Two week-apart sprayings ought to kill most of the grass and make it easier to remove. After smoothing out the area, I will lay 16-inch concrete stepping stones with 1- to 3-inch river rocks between them. This will lead to a very low maintenance area.

After removing the sod I will take a look at the sprinklers and see which have to be moved or redirected. I'm thinking that just by changing a couple of heads I won't have to dig up any sprinkler lines.

This is a great time to plan any projects you may want to accomplish this fall and winter. If you are having the work done, give yourself time to talk to a few contractors and then check out licenses, insurance and references.

Many yard maintenance companies are willing to tackle some of your landscape projects other than just mowing and edging during winter, as November through February are slow months for them. Pruning, mulching and even placing stepping stones may be right up their alley. It's worth asking since you already know the quality of their work if they have been caring for your yard.

Another area you may want to concentrate on is your vegetable plot. It should be prepared and planted with fall vegetables. Remember to add lots of organic materials before you plant. This is a good time of the year to add leaves, compost, grass clippings (with no chemicals) and other organic materials to all areas of the garden.

If using leaves, use your lawn mower to shred them into smaller pieces. When shredded, the leaves will not mat down and prevent water from reaching the root zone of your plants. Once the leaves are shredded and spread out in the garden, a layer of mulch, compost or soil will help hold them down. Leaves tend to blow around or wash away in a heavy rain. Incorporating the leaves into the soil will also help them decompose quicker than if just laid on top.

Vegetables that like this time of the year include beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, Chinese cabbage, collards, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard, onions (bunching and bulbing), peas, radishes, spinach and turnips. Continue to monitor your vegetable garden and plant new crops. Apply two pounds of 6-6-6, 6-8-8 or similar fertilizer per 100 square feet every two to three weeks. If you have healthy, well-composted soil, you can probably cut down on the fertilizer applications.

Watch for caterpillars in your vegetable garden and spray with Bacillus thuringiensis if detected. Aphids and other soft-bodied insects can be controlled with insecticidal soap. Remove weeds and mulch the soil.

Don't forget color. If you like annuals try alyssum, calendula, carnation, cleome, dianthus, foxglove, geranium, nasturtium, ornamental cabbage and kale, pansy, petunia, snapdragon, sweet pea and annual verbena. I always have a few pots of marigolds because I like their typical fall colors.

For some more permanent color, add these perennials: blue salvia, chrysanthemum, coreopsis, day lily, gaillardia, gazania, Shasta daisy, stokes aster and yarrow. If you already have perennials in your garden, now is a good time to divide them. To divide, dig up as much of the root ball as possible. Use a sharp knife or shovel to divide the root ball. Some root balls can be teased apart just using your fingers. Cut back some of the top growth to minimize transplant shock and replant each plant in your garden. Water well and do not let the root ball dry out until the plant is once again established.

If you haven't tried bulbs, plant some amaryllis. Plant bulbs now to enjoy blossoms year after year. Digging oversized holes about 6 inches deep and 10 inches wide will give you plenty of room to add organic matter before planting. Set bulbs so the top third is above the soil surface. Mulch to prevent sunscald.

Don't forget to replace those herbs that are looking tried or try a few new ones. Set out transplants of dill, fennel, cilantro, chervil, thyme, rosemary and lemon verbena now. Herbs thrive in morning sun and afternoon shade. Well-drained soil is critical.

Watch your lawn for fungus. It may be necessary to treat with a fungicide. Fungicides are available at garden centers. Read the label and make sure your type of grass is listed on the label. You can also leave this treatment to the professionals if you prefer.

Keeping up with chores in your garden now will ensure a healthy, beautiful spring garden. So spend a few minutes each day taking care of (and enjoying) your garden.

- Mary Collister writes about how to garden successfully in Florida's climate and offers problem-solving tips for your home garden. Mail questions to: Mary Collister, North of Tampa, 14358-B N Dale Mabry Blvd., Tampa, FL 33618.

[Last modified October 21, 2004, 14:18:15]

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