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Fall Seasonal Tips

Fall
Winter
Spring
Summer

The Importance of Fall Fertilizing
The Need for Fall Pruning and Techniques
Fall Leaves - Raking and Mulching
Bring Those Plants In!
Start Getting Rid of Weeds
Composting: An excellent Use for Leaves
Fall Planting of Perennials
Take Care of Deciduous Trees in the Fall
Organizing Closets to Get Ready for That "Big Chill"
Lighting the Pilot Light
Safety Tips for Heating
Gutters and Downspouts

The Importance of Fall Fertilizing

Fall is the time to feed your root system, but you must fertilize at the right time and in the right amounts. Improper fertilization can result in a diminished root system. Although fertilizer is called "food" in conversations, it really isn't the kind of food that lawns can use. Fertilizer provides nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and certain key elements like iron. The root takes these nutrients, plus air and water, from the soil and sends them up to the green grass blades. Sunlight helps turn them into sugars. The sugars are then stored in the root system to power root development during the dormant period, and to give the lawn a quick greening in spring. Nitrogen is needed for leaf growth and a healthy green color. Phosphorus promotes healthy root development. Potassium or potash, helps turf grass resist disease and improve winter hardiness. Too much nitrogen leads to increased threat of disease, loss of drought tolerance, decreased root growth and other problems. Prudent professional use of nitrogen is essential.

The Need for Fall Pruning and Techniques

Fall is an excellent time of year to prune most woody ornamental plants. Avoid pruning spring flowering shrubs in the fall to avoid removing flower buds set earlier in the year. Pruning is done for several reasons:

  • To remove dead or damaged plant branches.
  • To reshape overgrown plants in a landscape.
  • To rejuvenate old, multi-stemmed shrubs.
  • To remove diseased branches.
  • To reduce future problems.
  • To improve the plant's overall appearance and health.

Pruning techniques are important to the quality of the work performed. Here are some tips:

  • Never try to cut more wood than your saw or clippers are designed to cut.
  • Use a small saw or loppers to remove medium sized or larger branches.
  • Small stems and twigs should be clipped with hand pruners.
  • Avoid use of shears unless you are maintaining a formal hedge.
  • Never cut a branch flush with the main stem.
  • Leave the stem collar intact to promote rapid healing of the stem cut.
  • Never leave a stud which can provide an opening for wood decay.

Fall Leaves - Raking and Mulching

When those fall leaves start getting all over your lawn, it's time to develop a program for using them wisely. If left on the ground, fallen leaves may accumulate enough to smother turf, ivy or other ground covers. Clean them up often, because it only takes about a week's worth of leaves to kill patches of your lawn.

Leaves from trees such as locust and maple tend to dry and decompose quickly. Others, such as poplar, sycamore and oak take much longer and can cause damage to your lawn or interfere with the process of turf renewal and the planting of perennials. Raking is beneficial to turf, and in ground covers and garden beds, leaf sweepers, blowers and vacuums can be used.

Shredding is a great way to reduce the volume of leaves on your lawn -- a 2-inch layer of dry leaves can be reduced to a one-eight-inch dusting of shredded leaves by a good mulching mower system. Leaves can often be shredded right where they fall to a dust that will not be thick enough to bury grass. If the wind blows the leaves around, you'll need to collect them. Shredders and chippers are used for this task.

If you've got a compost pile, using the shredded leaves will speed up decomposition, and for those who pay collection fees, shredded leaves mean fewer bags to be picked up. Leaves contain valuable nutrients and organic matter that fertilize gardens when tilled into plots. Shredded leaves can also be used a mulch on the surface around trees, shrubs or in garden beds. If you live in an alkaline area, mulch made from leaves may need added acidifiers.

Don't forget to make the best of leave-raking as an exercise. It's a good idea to do some stretches before raking to warm up your muscles -- it's a lot easier to get back pain in cooler weather. Stretching is also important after you are finished. While raking, take a few precautions to keep from straining.

  • Don't overstuff your bags.
  • Lift bags by bringing them in close to the body and using your arms and legs to lift, not your back.
  • Use a rake with a bent handle or build up the handle with plastic tubing so you won't have to grip so hard.
  • Take frequent breaks and don't overstretch or twist your body.
  • Carry leaves in a wagon or cart to avoid as much of the lifting and carrying as you can.
  • Avoid raking wet leaves.

Bring Those Plants In!

The time to bring them in is when the night temperature drops to 45 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Make sure you're not brining in insects or eggs by spraying the plants with a 1% horticultural oil solution.

Start Getting Rid of Weeds

By applying a herbicide in the fall to the foliage of weeds, it will be carried to the roots and help to control the weeds. The reason is, plants move carbohydrates from their leaves to the roots in cooler weather.

Composting: An Excellent Use for Leaves

Getting a compost pile going is a great fall project that helps you recycle the fallen leaves. All you need for a good compost pile is water, nutrients and oxygen. If the pile is put in the right place, nature provides the water through rain. The nutrients are provided by the waste that you place in the pile. Your job is to make sure that you've chopped or shredded the pieces of waste into small, decomposable bits and to turn the compost often enough to give it oxygen.

Compost is the loamy mixture produced by decomposition of wastes from the garden and kitchen. Composting will help save on your refuse bills by recycling kitchen and yard wastes and will give you a fantastic supplement for the soil.

Fall Planting of Perennials

Planting perennials is an important fall project. If you've got existing perennials, you can separate them into smaller plants. Each plant should have a good root system and at least one healthy growing tip. Add compost to the soil while you're replanting for extra growing power in the spring. By dividing perennials, you give them better chance for growth in less crowded conditions and pest and disease problems will be minimized.

Take Care of Deciduous Trees in the Fall

If you've got deciduous trees under your care, fall is the time to give them a lot of attention. Most of the root growth for these trees occur as things begin to cool down. If you've got trees stressed by summer draught, it's very important to water them generously in the fall, even after the trees have lost their leaves. Trees such as holly and magnolia face a greater danger of being injured during the winter if they have been too dry through the fall. The cooler the fall weather, the less often you need to water.

Organizing Closets to Get Ready for That "Big Chill"

Feeling a little depressed and confined because it's getting dark so early all of a sudden? Take some time to start organizing your closets, putting away the summer things and getting those sweaters out of mothballs. Then when the first "big chill" hits, you'll be prepared, and your closets won't end up a big jumbled mess from digging for your warmer clothes.

Try starting out with three boxes: one for things you can't get rid of but can be stored somewhere else, one for the things that you don't want anymore and one for the things to put in the back of the closet for seasonal rotation. This will help you get more organized. You could also take this time to add some space-saving devices to your closet.

Lighting the Pilot Light

As fall rolls around and the chill gets in the air, you want that heater to be working. It's probably a good idea to have your local utility company or service professional come around and check out your heating system before turning it on, but if you feel comfortable lighting your own pilot light, here are a few tips. Pilot lights on gas water heaters, furnaces, and room heaters work the same way. The pilot flame should always be lit, it is there to ignite the main burner on demand. To relight the pilot:

  • Turn the control valve OFF, then to the PILOT position.
  • Push down the red button (or on newer models, the valve handle itself) to release gas to pilot light.
  • Light with a match. Don't let up on the valve for 60 seconds until the thermocouple warms up.
  • Release the button and set the control to ON.
  • If the heater still doesn't light or the pilot won't stay lit, you may have to replace the thermocouple. To get the proper replacement part, take your old thermocouple with you or call a service professional.
  • The relighting sequence described here may be slightly different for your heater -- be sure to follow the specific instructions for your appliance. They are usually posted on the appliance.

Safety Tips for Heating

  • Keep space heaters away from flammable materials and never use when you sleep. Make sure the wiring is sound.
  • Have all alternative heating sources such as a wood stove examined by an expert to make sure they are functioning properly.
  • Do not use the oven for heating.
  • Clean and check fireplaces and chimneys regularly.

Gutters and Downspouts

Inspect gutters and downspouts in the fall to keep them in good working order. Clean out accumulated leaves and other debris and check the slope of the gutters by running water through them. If drainage is slow, reposition the gutters for correct slope. For more information visit our section on gutters and downspouts.

 

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