Get your garden ready for bed

  • Article by: DEB BROWN , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 24, 2013 - 5:50 PM

What a strange gardening year this has been.

Our cool, wet spring hung on way too long, then flipped practically overnight to a very hot summer. That was followed by a month of unusually low temperatures, and finally, oppressive, record-breaking heat at fair time.

I, for one, am ready to let this season go, and hope for better luck next year. Of course, it takes more than luck to give your ­garden a leg up. It takes action.

Here are some things you can do this fall to prepare your yard and garden for winter — and next spring.

Keep your lawn alive

The latter part of this summer was so hot and dry that many lawns are suffering moisture stress, so keep watering.

Though early autumn is normally the best time of year to fertilize, don’t fertilizer now, unless your grass is a healthy green and growing. If your grass looks good, apply a fertilizer that contains a slow-release form of nitrogen. Water it into the soil so it reaches the roots. Your lawn should come back thicker and greener next spring. And remember, a thick lawn shades the soil, making it less likely that weed seeds will receive the warmth and sunlight needed to sprout.

Continue mowing until the grass stops growing. It should not go into winter tall enough to flatten down and mat; aim for a height no more than 2 inches.

Be sure to rake well before the snow falls. If left on your lawn, leaves can form mats, which make the grass more prone to diseases.

Compost spent annuals, ­veggies

Leave flowering annuals in the garden as long as they look good. If you can, keep dead-heading larger flowers to encourage more blooms. Once they’re frost-damaged, pull annuals and add them to your compost pile. (Don’t put plants with heavy insect infestations or obvious disease into the compost. Bag them as yard waste, instead.)Remove vegetables once they’re no longer productive. If your tomatoes and other warm-weather crops are still producing, cover them if a light frost is predicted. When the temperatures start to d(if they a)Members of the cabbage family (cabbage, broccoli, ­brussels sprouts, kale) can take light frosts, and even improve in flavor. Carrots, too, are ­protected in the soil.Once we get a hard frost, pull out all of your annual vegetables to reduce the likelihood of disease organisms over-wintering in the soil.Then you can improve the soil for next year. Hoe out remaining weeds, then work in such organic matter as peat, composted manure or compost (even partially finished compost will do). You also can use a light layer of leaves if you sprinkle them with a 10-10-10 fertilizer, which will help the leaves break down.

Mulch perennials by ­November

Perennial plants grow in place for years, often coming back in spring just fine with no special winter protection. To be safe, though, it’s a good idea to mulch them with a generous covering of straw or leaves, which can be easily removed just before resumption of growth in spring.Though snow is an ideal insulator, we can’t count on maintaining good snow cover through winter in the Twin Cities. Apply mulch after the ground freezes or by the end of November, if the soil hasn’t frozen by then.

Cut back perennials if they’re moldy or diseased. If they appear healthy, or have simply yellowed or turned dry and brown, leave them in place to help trap snow and provide additional root protection.

TLC for trees and shrubs

wood chips or shredded bark.)Continue watering until the ground begins to freeze. Don’t prune or fertilize, however. Most trees should be pruned late in their dormant season, and most shrubs, after blossoming. Early spring is best for fertilizing.

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