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Fall Gardening

Prep Makes Sense

When local meteorologists start talking about the first frost, fall gardeners should be making a mental checklist of what to sow, cover, clean and plant before it’s too late. 

Mike Estes, owner of Rick’s Garden Center, 1827 W Uintah St., says the frost can come as early as mid-September but it typically happens around the first full moon of late September into early October. “We usually get a day or two notice that it’s coming and if you can cover any plant material with fabric (plastic will just transfer the cold) such as a blanket or sheet, many times you can extend your gardening for another three to four weeks,” Estes says. “That said, some things will not survive even with covering, including squash and pumpkins.”

Harvesting unripe foods such as peppers and tomatoes, as long as they are mature enough to have seeds, is also a good idea because they will ripen on their own inside.

A plant displaying black or dark brown leaves is a sure sign it has been bitten by the frost and should be pulled out of the ground. A sharp freeze will generally get to everything, even those with a covering, and turn fruits and tomatoes translucent. 

Estes says annual flowers usually will not tolerate frost and should be removed but perennials will do fine, especially with a little mulch and fertilizer. “My rule of thumb is to mulch all perennial flowers and roses with 3-4 inches of wood mulch before Halloween,” Estes says. “I also like to lightly apply fertilizer, such as bone meal, and work it into the soil as a root stimulant.” He also recommends watering perennials, trees and shrubs one time per month all winter on an above 40-degree day to give vegetation a healthy start come spring. 

Fall is also a great time to plant perennials, shrubs and spring flower bulbs so you’ll have color in the spring. Freddie Bogardus, a Colorado master gardener with the Colorado State University Extension of El Paso County, says fall is an ideal time to add to your gardens because the shorter, cooler days will enhance root growth but inhibit any growth above ground. She also says garden shops tend to have sales in the fall. “Planting should be done early enough so the plants have time to adapt before temperatures drop,” Bogardus says. “And a plant should be placed in the ground at a depth no more than the container it was purchased in.”

Bogardus also suggests gardeners take into account any plants that need to be divided because they have grown too wide or have overtaken too much space in the garden. “When thinking about dividing, you should research the plant because some won’t tolerate dividing in the fall,” she says. “And anything in bloom should not be divided.”

Flower seeds also can be planted in the fall and Bogardus suggests planting lettuce seeds. “You might just get a spring crop,” she says.