Time to start checking fall garden chores off the to-do list

Fertilize the lawn with a fall/winter food, plant spring bulbs, rake leaves and divide perennials.

Here are your autumn reminders for the week: did you fertilizer the lawn with a fall and winter lawn food? Have you planted spring-blooming bulbs? Raked any leaves from your lawn? Divided perennials like daylilies, iris and Shasta daisies?

While you are outdoors might as well add clean the gutters, store away the patio furniture and winterize the power mower. Don’t forget to protect frost-sensitive plants like echeveria succulents, kalanchoes and coleus by bringing them indoors as houseplants for the winter. Dig up and store tender bulbs of gladiola, dahlias and cannas or – if you are a gambling gardener – cut back the top grown and cover the soil with a waterproof layer of sword fern fronds or use a tarp to keep away the winter rain. Wet winter soil will rot tender bulbs.

Q. I was cleaning out my garden shed I found some very old gardening products such as pesticides and fertilizer. How does one do proper disposal? Some of these products are still OK but I no longer have use for them. Thanks. P.H., Kent

A. Thank you for asking. In general, pesticides begin losing power after two to three years in storage. Do not flush them down a toilet or drain. There should be instructions on the label about proper disposal. You may also contact your local household hazardous waste division to find out about recycling sites or drop-off sites. As for fertilizers, they can also lose potency after a few years but if stored in a cool, dry location some fertilizer can maintain potency for decades. You might want to offer leftover plant foods to a neighbor as using up a fertilizer on plants in the spring is the best way to get rid of it.

Q. I am cleaning up my garden beds for fall. What perennials should I cut to the ground and which ones should I not prune back? S.M., Buckley

A. Cut back hosta, daylilies, phlox and any other perennial with soft tissue that will harbor slugs. Perennials with woody stems like hibiscus, Russian sage and lavender should not be cut back now. Wait until April to trim these woody plants. Perennials with evergreen foliage such as heucheras, dianthus and creeping phlox should also be left alone. Finally, don’t cut back plants with winter interest such as ornamental grasses, coneflowers, stonecrop or sedums and wait until mid-winter to remove the old foliage of hellebores.

Q. Last year you printed a recipe for making leaf mold. It used up fallen leaves by turning the leaves into a mulch. Please tell us again what to do. H.S., Olympia

A. Leaf mold is the magic soil additive that holds moisture and adds microorganisms to garden soil and is also a weed-blocking mulch. It is nothing more than the matted, decaying leaves that fall from trees and is how Mother Nature intended to enrich the soil. You must rake leaves from your lawn or they can smother the turf. You can save some of the fallen leaves by stuffing them into large plastic garbage bags. Add a shovel of soil to inoculate the leaves with soil critters. Next, poke air holes all over the plastic bag with a screwdriver. Close up the bag and store over the winter under a table, behind the garden shed or in the corner of a garage. In spring you will not find rich, black compost inside the bag. But you will find moldy, slimy, partially-rotted leaves. Your trees and shrubs will love this leaf mold spread on top of the soil to help smother any newly-sprouting weeds and to feed the earthworms and other soil critters. Don’t worry about the messy look – it takes just a few weeks in the spring for leaf mold to transform into a dark soil mulch.

• • •

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022.

Copyright for this column owned by Marianne Binetti.

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