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The Plant Medic

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Likely too late to seed, but here are other fall chores

Q. How will this early fall affect my garden and landscape – especially after all the hot weather we had earlier?

A. It certainly has been an unusual weather year. The National Weather Service is still predicting a warmer and drier winter season on average for 2012-13. The key words here are “on average.” It doesn’t mean we won’t experience cold, snowy weather.

We have just experienced one of the earliest hard freezes on record. We shouldn’t have experienced a frost until about Oct. 20. Gardeners will need to keep their plastic covers for tender annuals and vegetables handy this month as we can expect to see a roller coaster when it comes to weather and temperatures.

Many folks call the extension office wondering when it’s too late to seed turf grass. My answer to this question is: How much of a gambler are you? If you seeded a lawn today, then one needs at least 3-4 weeks to germinate a bluegrass lawn.

You could lose an entire lawn if a hard frost or freeze occurred when the tender grass seedlings are just germinated. If one can get the grass established, then it can withstand the cold temperatures just fine.

If you don’t want to gamble, then wait to frost seed the lawn in early March of next year.

If you have bare spots, then simply cover those with a layer of straw to prevent erosion of the soil over the winter months.

Soils are still pretty dry. This year it will be vital to water your landscape shrubs and perennials as we head into winter.

Evergreens such as arbor-vitae and small recently planted spruce are particularly vulnerable; along with rhododendrons and hydrangeas. Make sure to give the plants a deep long drink of water; don’t just spritz the plants.

Make sure to stake and water fall-planted trees and shrubs. Early October is a nice time to plant, so take advantage of the cool weather.

October and November are good times to fertilize lawns and landscape trees and shrubs. Research has shown that plants utilize nutrients more efficiently in the fall – the plants actually hang onto the nutrients and partition them into root development in the spring.

Late fall is when you should cut back your herbaceous perennials. Make sure to leave some stubble on the plants to protect their growing points (crowns).

Late fall is a great time to prune evergreens and deciduous trees and shrubs that don’t flower in the spring.

There is some disagreement on how short lawns need to be cut for the last mowing. Some sites suggest just mowing until the ground freezes or snow remains. Other experts tell us to cut the lawn short to prevent diseases from developing.

I think the best advice is to lower the blades an inch for the last mowing to reduce any stress from cutting the lawn too short.

Wait until late October to plant spring flowering bulbs.

Hopefully next season’s weather will be an improvement over 2012’s roller coaster.

The Plant Medic, written by Ricky Kemery, appears every other Sunday. Kemery is the extension educator for horticulture at the Allen County branch of the Purdue Extension Service. Send questions to