October 1, 2003 | By: Aimee D. Heald

Most people look forward to the first frost of fall because it usually signals the end of lawn and garden work for a few months.  However, University of Kentucky Consumer Horticulturist Rick Durham cautions the work is not always finished with the first frost.

“Don’t be too quick to put away the garden tools,” he said.  “There are still a few important activities left to do before you put your landscape and garden to sleep for the winter.”

First off, fall is a good time to clean up the landscape and it is important for many reasons.  Many insects will spend the winter on the same plants they used for food during the summer, especially fallen leaves, flowers or fruit.  Disease also can be a concern.

“The black spot that plagued your rose foliage all summer is waiting patiently on those fallen leaves,” Durham said.  “It will resume growth and infect new foliage in the spring.”

To protect the landscape from future insect and disease problems, Durham suggests raking up fallen foliage and removing it from the landscape.  If plants were infected with black spot, other diseases or insects, remove the foliage, directly take it to the trash bin and don’t even risk composting it, he said.

Excessive weed growth in late fall and winter can contribute to next year’s pest problems, so it’s important to remove weeds from the landscape as soon as possible. 

“Weeds also can provide food and shelter for overwintering insects,” Durham said.  “And, don’t forget about all the seeds they will produce to plague you in the future.  Get rid of the weeds.”

Another important thing to do for landscapes in the fall is to apply mulch around perennials to protect them from winter temperatures.  Most perennials will die back after the first few frosts and the foliage can be discarded to the compost bin if they were not heavily infected with disease, Durham added.  When the foliage is removed, make sure there is a shallow mulch layer around the base of overwintering perennials.

“Spring flowering bulbs laying dormant under the soil will also benefit from a layer of mulch,” he said. “Mulch is not really to keep the soil warm, but to keep the soil temperature even. So wait until the soil temperatures have cooled a bit in mid-to-late fall and then apply a few inches of your favorite organic mulch such as wood chips, bark or compost.”

Mulch helps shade the soil and moderate soil temperatures and may help prevent heaving of shallow-rooted perennials from the soil.

“Just remember that there is still a little work to be done after the first frost of the fall,” Durham said.  ‘”You’ll be glad you took the extra time to prevent problems in the future.”



Writer: Aimee D. Heald 859-257-4736, ext. 267
Source: Rick Durham 859-257-3249