October 12, 2005 | By: Laura Skillman

The onset of cooler days and longer nights is no time to slack off on gardening chores. Now is the time to perform a myriad of tasks to prepare the garden for winter and ready flower beds for a beautiful spring display.

Cleaning up dead plants and other debris in the vegetable garden this fall will help reduce the potential for fungal, bacterial and other disease problems in next year’s crops, said John Hartman, plant pathologist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. 

When tidying up the garden, check for disease problems. Cut off tomato plants and dig up the roots to check for root knot nematodes. If nematodes are present, crop rotation or even planting tall fescue in that area of the garden might be necessary to alleviate the problem, he said.

As you remove debris from the vegetable garden, begin planning for next year’s crops so that the same types of plants won’t be planted in the same location two years in a row.

“Crop rotation is the most effective and least expensive disease control we have,” Hartman said.

As the weather cools, pumpkins and winter squash need to be harvested and stored in a cool place, said Rick Durham, Extension consumer horticulture specialist. While it is too late for planting fall vegetables, there are several crops that do well in Kentucky gardens in the fall when planted in late summer. This allows gardeners to continue to enjoy broccoli and cabbage into early November.

Leftover fruits, called mummies, need to be removed from trees or bushes and disposed of because they can harbor diseases that will impact next year’s crop, Durham said. Clean up around fruit trees by raking leaves and dried fruit to also reduce potential pest problems.

Not all fall chores are about sanitation. Fall is also the ideal time to plant trees and shrubs, Durham said.

When picking out species to plant look for ones that are suited to Kentucky and your landscape. Consider what the tree’s height and canopy will be at maturity, not when it is new, he said. Select a site where the tree or shrub will grow well and look good and not pose a problem later. Especially watch for power lines.

After a couple of frosts and the trees start to turn colors, it is time to fertilize the landscape. Wait until trees are dormant so they don’t lose some of their winter hardiness when nitrogen is applied. Applying 1 to 2 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet is usually sufficient for most lawns and landscapes. Splitting the application into two or three smaller applications in October and November is ideal.

Fall is also time to plant perennials such as daffodils and tulips and other spring-blooming bulbs. Spring-blooming bulbs can also be dug up and divided at this time, but with the foliage gone, they may be difficult to find if their location was not marked previously.

When selecting trees and bulbs, check for diseases. Make sure there is no fungal growth on tulip bulbs and discard any that are soft or decayed, Hartman said. Check trees for canker diseases and make sure the trees put on good growth this year. This can be checked by looking at the length of the twigs. Also, select a site that has adequate drainage to keep from having root rot next year. 

Be sure to apply a layer of mulch to help reduce the chances of bulbs being heaved from the ground due to freezing and thawing, Durham said. Mulch will also help conserve soil moisture and serve as an insulating agent during severely cold temperatures. Don’t stop watering your plants, trees and shrubs. Make sure they continue to receive an inch of water every couple of weeks until the ground freezes, Durham said.

As the foliage dies on tender perennials such as cannas, gladiolas and elephant ears, the bulbs need to be dug up and stored for replanting next year.

After the first hard freeze, remove annuals and cut back perennials to near ground level. The plant material can be placed in the compost bin along with refuse from the vegetable garden.

If you have plants outdoors that you plan to bring into the house for the winter, it is time to begin moving those that have been in direct sun into the shade for a few days to prepare them for reduced lighting, Durham said. Also, check for pests before bringing them indoors as it is easier to treat the problem before you bring it into the house.

After the gardening tasks have been completed, don’t forget your tools. Cleaning your hoe, spade and other tools and servicing your lawn mower will have them ready to go when spring fever hits.

“If you do it now, you’ll be a step ahead,” Durham said.


Writer: Laura Skillman 270-365-7541 ext. 278

Contact: John Hartman, 859-257-7445 ext. 80720
Rick Durham, 859-257-3249