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?

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Raking Leaves and Making Leaf Mulch for Your Garden

FallLeafMulchFlickrwickenden

Fall is a glorious time where the leaves change to magnificent hues of red, orange, brown and yellow. It also means that a lawn task awaits: raking leaves. Depending on the size of your yard and how many trees you have, this can seem like a daunting task. It doesn’t have to be, though.

One trick I like to use to make leaf raking easier is to lay a tarp on the ground. You can rake leaves on top of it and easily drag it around to other spots in your lawn. Once you are done you can bag them up to be hauled away or used in your garden. The latter is nice because you have one less thing to toss in the trash.

Making Leaf Mulch

Did you know that one of the best mulches for your garden is free? Leaves are full of nutrients and can be reused to make a leaf mulch that will help your garden plants stay safe during the cooler times of the year and benefit from the organic matter as the leaves naturally decompose.

First, you want to try and help your leaves break down faster. An easy way to do this is to run over the leaves with your mower while they are still on the ground. This will chop them up into pieces. You can bag them up to save for later, use them to mulch some of your plants to protect them through the winter, or simply add them to a compost pile.

A note of caution: not every leaf is suitable for use as mulch. A prominent example is the black walnut tree. This species produces a substance called juglone that actively works to harm other plants around it. You certainly don’t want something like that in your mulch or compost!

If you are ready for us to start raking leaves in your lawn, give us a call today. We would be happy to help.

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Fall Is a Great Time for Planting!

Try planting some pansies in the fall for extra zings of color

Try planting some pansies in the fall for extra zings of color

When most of us think about planting new specimens in our gardens, spring comes to mind. However, many plants can be successfully planted during the fall too. In fact, there are several reasons why it can be a better idea to do your planting in the fall.

Place Your Trees and Shrubs Now

If you think about it, planting in the fall is wonderful for trees and shrubs. When you plant in the spring, they face the possibility of dealing with growing conditions that are hot and dry when they are still newly forming roots. If you are planting in the fall, the roots will still continue to grow even after the rest of the tree or shrub has gone dormant. This will allow them to create a strong root network that will give the plant a better chance of survival in harsh conditions.

Try to do your planting towards the start of fall. You do want to avoid planting bare root trees or shrubs at this time, however, as these have a harder time getting their roots going in time. Choose ones that come in containers or are in a ball and burlap. Some species like magnolias and birches are harder to establish in fall and should be planted in the spring.

You Can Do a Fall Vegetable Garden

There are two types of vegetables that you can plant: cool season and warm season. One of the benefits of the cool season type is that you can do two crops per year. The first is planted earlier in the spring and the second is timed to produce a fall crop before the hard frosts set in. Some of the vegetables like peas often do a little better even with a light frost. You can also extend the growing season even farther by using structures like cold frames, hoop houses and greenhouses.

Some cool season vegetables for fall include:

  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Collards
  • Garlic (should be planted in late fall for the next year)
  • Lettuce
  • Kale
  • Onions
  • Radishes
  • Spinach
  • Turnips

Plant Some Pansies!

I remember seeing pansies among the snow when I was in college. These joyous flowers will give you two flower shows if you plant them in fall. Deadhead them so the blooms are extended and mulch them when the ground freezes so they will have some protection from the freezing temperatures.

You Can Do Some Perennials Too

This is when you can plant many of your perennials like irises, hostas and peonies. You can also divide existing ones to create new plants.

What do you plant in the fall?

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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?

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Types of Grass Seed

If you are working on overseeding or renovating your lawn this fall, consider the different types of grass seed available. This is an opportunity to add different kinds to your yard to improve its look or overall health. There are two types of grasses available: cool season and warm season.

Cool Season Grasses

These species have adapted well to cooler temperatures and are the type primarily used in the northern half of the United States where there are freezing temperatures. They will green up sooner in the spring and grow later in the fall. However, they can struggle and go dormant during times of heat and drought. You can buy mixes that include several different types that balance out their strengths and weaknesses.

  • Fine fescue (Festuca spp.): There are actually several different species that are included under this common name. Choose this type if you are trying to seed a shady area. The other three need sun, though fall fescue can tolerate some shade if needed.
  • Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis): This species can spread itself by rhizomes (underground stems) and is the best of these four types at reestablishing in bare spots. However, it requires more maintenance.
  • Perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne): This is a great species to plant if your yard is used often as it can tolerate high levels of traffic. It germinates very quickly.
  • Tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea) Weeds and pests are less likely to bother tall fescue. It can handle areas that only offer partial sun.

Warm Season Grasses

These species of grasses are great if you are trying to conserve water. They do stay brown longer in the spring and go dormant in the fall sooner than cool season grasses. However, they are well adapted to warmer temperatures and can tolerate droughts better. There are several different species that can be used in lawns, but since New York is in the northern US, cool season species are usually used. You may see some use zoysiagrass.

  • Zoysiagrass (Zoysia spp.): These species stand up well to high traffic, drought and bouts of heat. Unfortunately, this can sometimes be invasive, so it’s best for lawns that are not conjoined to other people’s yards.

What types of grass seed do you usually use?

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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.

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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.

 

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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?
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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?

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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?

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