Our fall chore checklist has been downsized. Instead of including the 40 or 50 things you should do, we've zeroed in on the five chores you really need to do to put your yard and garden to bed. Nightie night!
Continue to harvest vegetables as they ripen. If you have more veggies than you can use, take them to a food shelf. (To find a food shelf near you, call Second Harvest at 651-484-5117 or go www.2harvest.org.)
Once they're hit by a hard frost, remove annuals and vegetables and toss them in the compost bin.
Cut back perennials that show signs of disease. Don't compost diseased plant material. Throw it in the trash.
Leave sturdy-stemmed perennials and those with interesting seed heads standing until spring. They'll help capture the snow, which insulates the soil and adds a little interest to your winter garden.
Empty containers. After your plants get zapped by frost, dump the plants -- soil and all -- into the composter. Wash and dry the empty containers and store them in the basement or on a shelf in the garage. Terra cotta, ceramic and concrete containers can crack and break if left outside, so use plastic or metal containers for your winter displays.
To get a sure-fire show of flowers in the spring, plant bulbs now.
Daffodils should be in the ground by the end of September, but tulips, hyacinths, crocus and scilla and other spring-blooming bulbs can be planted until around mid-October. (Remember: It's pointy side up.)
There's no need to fertilize your bulbs, but you should water them after planting, then once a week unless we have regular rainfall. When the ground starts to freeze, mulch your bulb beds.
Fall is the best time to fertilize because our northern lawn grasses resume active growth when the nights get longer and cooler. So apply fertilizer now and again in mid-October to early November.
It's getting a little late to seed thin areas of your lawn, but it's not too late to aerate or top-dress a lackluster lawn with a thin layer (about 1/3 of an inch) of completed compost.
A thick layer of leaves can cause snow mold, which damages grass, so rake the leaves, bag them and save them to use as winter mulch. If you have just a thin layer of leaves on your lawn, run the mower over them a couple of times and leave them in place.
Even though you may want to stow your mower, it's best to leave grass about 2 to 2 1/2 inches long going into winter. So if your grass is 3 to 4 inches long or longer, mow your lawn once or twice more.
We had yet another dry summer, so your plants -- even established evergreens and mature trees -- may be stressed by drought. Don't let them go into winter in a vulnerable condition. Unless we get at least an inch of rain a week, water deeply once a week until the ground starts to freeze.
Winter mulch helps maintain even soil moisture, helps cold air from penetrating as deeply into the soil and helps prevent some of the freeze-thaw cycles, which can damage or kill plants. So cover your bulbs and perennials with a thick layer of winter mulch.
It's also a good idea to mulch around the base of young trees and shrubs.
Use 4 to 8 inches of straw or hay or up to 12 inches of dry leaves. (Instead of spreading a layer of loose leaves, you also can fill garbage bags half full of leaves, then place the bags in your garden.)
It's best to wait until the ground starts to freeze, which typically happens in mid-November in the Twin Cities. If the ground hasn't frozen by early December, go ahead and mulch anyway.
Connie Nelson • 612-673-7087