When Should You Cut Down Perennials?

Path lined by blue fescues

Blue fescue will add pops of color all winter long if you wait until spring to cut down this perennial grass.

The growing season is winding down and you may wonder when to cut down your perennials for best success. These plants last more than one season and may have become untidy. For many, fall is a great time, with the caveat that you need to consider how it will affect the look of your garden overall.

The Basics of Cutting Down Perennials

These types of plants may be trimmed either in spring or in fall. Many people like to do it in fall as part of putting their garden to rest for the season. This can be beneficial for the plant if it has faced problems like leaf diseases or insect damage.

When you do decide to cut them down, leave about three inches of stem instead of cutting it down to the ground so that you do not damage the plant.

Don’t Destroy Your Winter Interest

I grew up in Southern California where plants are perpetually growing and the landscape is always full of vibrant colors. As I discovered later when I moved to a colder region, things can get pretty dull during the winter when not much (if anything) is growing and your yard is covered in snow.

If you do decide to cut down your perennials in fall, you will have to wait until spring’s new growth generates excitement in your garden. Many perennials can add winter interest to your garden with parts like colorful stems, foliage and fruits. The latter can also serve as food for wildlife and birds. Unless 

As Cornell University mentions, perennials like “European ginger, bishop’s hat, ferns, Lenten rose, ornamental grasses, and upright sedums (such as ‘Autumn Joy’)” should be cut back in the spring instead of the fall.

Do you cut down your perennials in the fall? Do you have any that provide winter interest?

Image by jinxmcc under a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives License

Color Planning for Your Garden in the Fall

Cotoneasters have great fall foliiage and fruit

            Fall color on a cotoneaster

Fall is a great time to do some color planning for your garden. You can look at other people’s yards and see ideas for plants that are blooming and changing foliage color at this time. If you decide that you want to add some new trees and shrubs for fall interest next year, many can be planted successfully at this time; in fact, for many, this is the ideal time instead of spring. This is also the time to start considering what spring flowering bulbs you will want to plant soon, which we will cover in a subsequent post.

Three Types of Trees That Provide Fall Colors

Maples are likely the first trees that come to mind when we think of autumn foliage. The palm shaped leaves come in a wide assortment of shades like red, orange, yellow, purple and brown. Depending on the species you choose (some produce better than others), you can also tap them in late winter to make maple syrup.

Oak trees also put on a good show with their leaves in hues of red, yellow, brown and orange. The acorns can also be used to make fall decorations for your house.

Aspen trees have foliage that turns yellow in autumn. Since these are often found in higher elevations where evergreens live, the pop of color is especially lovely. This can work for your garden too as a focal point.

Three Types of Shrubs That Provide Fall Colors

Cotoneasters are sturdy shrubs that will brighten up your landscape with their scarlet foliage and fruit. Two to look for are the rockspray cotoneaster and the willowleaf cotoneaster.

An underused shrub is the redvein enkianthus, which provides several seasons of color. In the spring it produces gorgeous clusters of white flowers with pink veins. In fall, the foliage becomes orange, red or yellow.

Serviceberries have white flowers that turn into edible fruits. In autumn, the leaves will turn to orange and red.

What are your favorite ways to add color in the fall?

Image by Roberto Verzo under a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License

Watering Your Trees and Shrubs in the Fall

Fall leaves

We don’t really think about watering our trees and shrubs (or other plants, for that matter) during the winter since snow is made up of water, after all. However, since the ground is often frozen and it is difficult for water to reach the roots, it is essential that you follow a special watering schedule in the fall so that you will have the best possible outcome for your trees and shrubs.

Beginning of Fall

As fall begins, you should stop watering your trees and shrubs for a few weeks. Rainfall should take care of the plants’ needs naturally. If you were to water at this time, the tree would start sending out new leaves and growth. When the first frosts hit, this would be a recipe for disaster as the tender stems are susceptible to cold damage. Let the deciduous trees finish up their leaf change and food storage. Evergreen trees will not change their leaves, of course, nor will they entirely stop growing during the winter. It is especially important that you make sure they get some watering before frosts.

Late Fall

Once the leaves have changed colors and fallen off, you should start watering again as needed. If it is raining frequently, you do not need to worry about doing this. As is the case with your lawns, you do not want to water frequently and shallowly. Do a deep watering every few days to encourage the roots to dive downward. This will help them find water during the winter and be protected from freezing temperatures.

As soon as the first frosts start occurring, stop watering your trees and shrubs. This is especially important if there is snow on the ground. If you have added enough water, your trees and shrubs will have a better chance of surviving the drought conditions of winter.

Image by Andrew Morrell Photography under a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives License

Fall Lawn Fertilization

FertilizerBostonLibraryMany people think that spring is the optimal time to fertilize your lawn. It makes sense, right? The plants are just waking up and need a burst of nutrients to get them off to a good start. However, what you really need to focus on is fall lawn fertilization to keep your grass at its best. Choosing this time means that your grass roots will grow and strengthen themselves, improving the overall system. Fertilizing in spring (especially if that is the only time that you do it) is not as good since it encourages blade growth more, resulting in more mowing and potential problems.

The first step you should perform before any fertilization is to do a soil test. You would run into trouble if your soil already happened to have had good (or a bit overabundant) levels of the main nutrients (N-nitrogen, P-Phosphorus, K-Potassium) and you added more unknowingly. This also helps you check the levels of other nutrients and make sure that you get the correct blend. Here in NY, you can contact the Cornell Nutrient Analysis Laboratory or the local Extension Service for testing.

Once you know that you should indeed add a round of fertilization, wait for the right window. If you maintain your lawn frequently, Cornell University advises that you should do a round of fertilization at a rate of one pound for every 1000 square feet in your yard around Labor Day and another in November before Thanksgiving. If your yard is a bit more low key, only the November feeding is necessary.

Know your first freeze dates and watch the weather. If you try to fertilize when it is warm in late fall, a cold snap that is likely around the corner will negate your efforts and even raise the potential of damage from freezing temperatures.

 

Image by Boston Public Library via a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License

Tune Up Your Sprinkler System for Fall

FallLawnFlickrmikecogh

Your grass may have needed extra water throughout the summer to help it combat heat and drought. As fall approaches, though, it is time to adjust your sprinkler system for the last few months of the growing season.

In autumn, the temperatures start falling. Rainstorms start happening more frequently. With these changes in the weather, it makes sense that you will need to irrigate less. You especially want to make sure that you do not stimulate excessive new growth as it may be damaged from early frosts. You do not want to completely stop watering yet, though. Your plants are busy storing up reserves before they go dormant and need a moderate amount of irrigation.

Consider installing a rain sensor in your sprinkler system as this is designed to override your scheduled sessions should it start to rain. This will save your lawn from being over-watered (keeping it healthier and saving you money) and conserve in the landscape to boot. These days they range from simple electric devices to high tech systems with Wi-Fi capability.

Near the end of autumn, you also want to start winterizing your system so that the pipes will not burst. This is a process where you remove all liquids from the system before the frosts get into full swing. After water is drained out, an air compressor is used to blow out any remaining moisture. Call us to get help in making sure that your system is properly winterized and avoid costly damage.

When do you start winterizing your sprinkler system?
Image by mikecogh under a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

Lawn Renovations and Enhancements

Laying down sod in a yard

Sod can be used in lawn renovation

Fall is a great time to take a good look at your grass and assess its condition. If wear and tear is minor, you may be able to just overseed. However, if it has taken a beating over the previous months, consider doing some lawn renovations and enhancements. This is a way to improve large sections of your yard without completely starting over.

You start by testing your soil to make sure there are not any underlying problems that would also affect the new seedlings. Dig down a few inches in several locations throughout the lawn and combine it into one sample. Send it off to a soil laboratory (like that available from the cooperative extension service) for analysis. They will tell you if any nutrients are lacking and can give recommendations on what to use.

Next you need rid of the existing lawn in the areas that you want to improve. You need it to be completely bare, so spray it with an herbicide that kills both grass and weeds. You don’t want a kind that will be long lasting, since that would just affect any grass seeds you sow. You also want to make sure that you do not get any on the lawn that you do want to keep.

Assess the condition of the thatch layer. You may likely need to remove some of it, as this is a common cause of problems in your yard. Loosen up the soil and apply any recommended fertilizers and amendments.

Once these steps are taking, you are ready to add the new grass. by the first part of fall lest early winter frosts cause damage. You want to do this Possible choices include seeds, sod and plugs. You can add the same type of grass or add another kind that works well for the planting site conditions. Keep it moist for the first few weeks to help nurture the plants and prevent them from drying out.

Have you renovated your lawn? How long did the process take?

Image by slgckgc under a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License

Are You Ready to Overseed Your Lawn?

Reseeding a lawn

Newly germinated grass seed in an existing lawn

Over time, bare spots may start appearing in your lawn. These can be due to insects, diseases, summer stress or thick thatch. Once you have successfully treated the underlying problem, you can work on repairing your grass. If the damage is not extensive, an inexpensive way to do this is to sow new seeds over the existing lawn.

The perfect time to do this is coming up, as your new grass plants will do best if planted at the end of August or beginning of September. The worst of summer (heat, drought, weeds) is over and fall rainstorms will help keep your seedlings watered. You do not want to perform this task later than this, though, as you run the risk of frosts harming the new plants.

Mowing

The first step is mowing your lawn. The University of Nebraska Extension Service mentions that it should be about 1.5″ high at this time. This will allow the seeds to be able to hit the ground. It also means that more sunlight and water will reach your seedlings.

Thatch

Next, you need to determine if you have a problem with thatch. If it is not too thick, you can simply run a rake over the lawn to help loosen up the soil a bit. Otherwise, you will need to remove the thatch layer so your new grass will not have problems growing. UNES suggests either using a power rake, a sod cutter or a core aerator.

Seeding

Once the thatch is gone, you can start seeding. Call Cornell University’s Extension Service to see what varieties they are currently recommending for our area. As Healthy Lawns, Clean Water advises, “Overseeding rates should be 4-6 lbs for perennial ryegrass, 6-8 lbs for tall fescue, 2-4 lbs for fine fescue and1-2 lbs for Kentucky bluegrass per 1,000 square feet.” Run a rake over the lawn again to help get the seeds into the top layer of the ground.

Watering

Check often to make sure that the soil does not dry out as the seeds are germinating and while the seedlings are young. Use light syringe cycles as needed, but do not overwater. Following these steps will rejuvenate your lawn and keep your yard looking great.

Do you overseed your lawn every year?

Image by Wonderlane under a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License

How Is Your Turf Looking?

Unfortunately there are some weeds throughout this lawn.

Unfortunately there are some weeds           throughout this lawn.

Have the hot summer temperatures taken a toll on your turf? Now is the time to be extra watchful for two problems that can crop up and harm your lawn right when it is naturally stressed.

Brown Grass?

Many lawns are made up of cool season grasses. These will green up before warm season grasses, but can struggle when things start getting hot and dry and may go dormant. You can help prevent this with syringe cycles on the warmest days. Water early in the morning so that the most moisture can travel down to the roots. The grass should perk up again as long as it is getting regular water.

Brown grass can also be a sign of insect problems like grubs. When you are assessing a lawn where some has turned brown, see if other symptoms are present. With grubs, for example, the grass can be peeled back easily since the roots have been cut.

Weeds?

In sports, they say that the best defense is a good offence. The same is true for your lawn; the best way to keep weeds at bay is to make sure that your grass is hearty and healthy. Water it regularly and don’t mow it too short. Plan on adding weed and feed in the fall when they are most vulnerable. This will help set a good stage for the following years. If there are just a few weeds, remove them by hand.

Monitoring these two situations in summer helps you keep your lawn going strong. Call us if you need help getting rid of weeds or brown spots.

Image by anneh632 under a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

Help Your Trees, Shrubs and Other Plants Recover From Summer

Stressed out plants

These plants have begun to wilt.

Summer can be a rough time for your landscape. The combination of heat, longer days and lack of rain can make it hard for your plants to grow and maintain themselves properly. They may start to droop and die. How can you help your plants recover from summer?

The first step is to recognize that your plants are indeed having problems. Signs of summer stress from drought and heat include:

  • Wilting
  • Yellowing
  • Scorched leaves that are brown and dry
  • Leaf loss (defoliation)
  • Slower growth
  • Insects or diseases (stressed trees are less able to fend off these problems)

Do keep in mind that these can also be signs of other problems like nutrient deficiencies, insects, pests and other problems. Scout around your garden to make sure you are not missing any clues.

Try to Prevent Problems Before They Start

One of the best ways to help your plants have the best growth is to choose ones that are well suited to the conditions in your landscape. Native plants originally come from a region and can handle the weather better. Drought tolerant plants in general will adjust to lower water levels.

Watering the Right Way

When you water, ensure that it is actually reaching the plant. Do not water during the hottest parts of the day unless you see plants that are wilting. If you do water them, do so from the base so less is lost to evaporation. Consider installing drip irrigation since emitters are placed right by the plants. As a rule, water for longer periods so the moisture goes down farther into the soil and the roots will follow. It may take some time for plants to recover if they have been stressed for a while.

Should You Fertilize?

You might think it would be a good idea to add some fertilizer to give the plants a boost. This can be detrimental, though. The uptake of the nutrients will stress the system and make it harder for the plant to repair itself as needed. For some plants, you can add some fertilizer in the fall. However, other plants may be harmed if they put out new growth just before a frost.

Have you seen signs of stress in your garden? Did they recover right away?

Image by graibeard under a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

What Is a Syringe Cycle for Lawns?

SyringeCycleFlickrThatRamenQueen

You usually do not need to water your lawn more than a couple of times a week for proper growth. Sometimes, however, it can be beneficial to do a short syringe cycle in the hottest part of the year, to combat patch disease, and when starting or renovating your lawn.

As a general rule, the ideal time to irrigate your yard is in the early morning hours. If you try to do it in the middle of the night, the water stays on the blades longer and leaves them susceptible to fungal diseases. If you were to water in the middle of the day, the hot sun will evaporate much of the moisture before it really has a chance to reach the roots.

It’s Getting Hot, Hot Hot

When it is really hot and your lawn is showing signs of stress (i.e. turning brown, though you will need to rule out other causes like insects), it can be helpful to do a short irrigation period called a syringe cycle. You do not need to worry about the fact that it is not going to reach the roots as its purpose is to protect the blades from the worst of the heat.

Fighting Against Patch Disease

If you are battling a disease like summer patch, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach advises that performing syringe cycles to reduce stress in your yard can help defeat this problem.

Keeping New Grass Alive

When you first add seeds or sod to your yard, perform extra syringe cycles each day so that they do not dry out. This is essential since the plants have not had a chance to properly put down roots and can die off quickly. Once the roots have become established, you can create a standard watering schedule.

How often do you syringe your lawn?

Image by ThatRamenQueen under a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License