In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
October, 2011
Regional Report

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As temperatures drop below 40 degrees, make plans to protect tomato plants to extend their season.

Fall Gardening To-Do List

The pleasant weather of autumn is one of my favorite times to plant. Yes, plant spring-flowering bulbs, trees, shrubs and many perennials. You can find them on sale now as nurseries would rather sell them than overwinter plants in the nursery.

Fall temperatures provide the right conditions for plants to establish roots without the added stress and competition for available water. Start early in the season so root growth is optimized. This new root growth will give plants a head start in the spring, resulting in more vigorous growth and flowering.

It is important to remember that plants going in the ground now will need extra attention throughout the cold months. Fall and winter watering is critical on open, warm days when natural moisture is lacking. An easy mnemonic to help you remember when to do fall and winter watering is to follow the holidays; water around Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine's Day and Easter. Of course, weather conditions will dictate when it is suitable to water. Water early in the day when temperatures are above freezing so moisture will soak in. When finished, drain the garden hose and return to safe storage.

Bulbs can be planted until the ground freezes solid. I have planted bulbs as late as December with exceptional results. The sooner the better, however, so root growth can be at its best. Plant bulbs to a depth at three times the bulb's size. For a double dose of flowers, you can set smaller bulbs on top of the larger ones. I like to combine tulips and crocus, planting the tulips deeper and the crocuses above the tulip bulbs.

If your perennial flowers are crowded and producing fewer flowers , now is a good time to lift and divide them. Coneflowers, daylilies, yarrow, dianthus, lady's mantle, and irises will benefit from fall division and transplanting. Use a spading fork to lift clumps and sharp tools to divide the mother plant to ensure that a couple of buds and some roots are part of each new division. If you like, share divisions with friends and neighbors.

If you've marked where bulbs are planted, you can lift and reset them to new locations or thin crowded plantings, if needed. For example, I'm moving some tulips from an area that needs renovation to a new spot this fall.

My tomatoes are doing fantastic, but night temperatures are dropping. So I'm preparing frost blankets to extend the season. Tomatoes are best harvested and taken indoors to ripen once the nighttime temperatures drop to 40 degrees. This is a good time to evaluate the vegetable garden and make notes in a journal. Do crops need rotation for next season to prevent diseases that survive in the garden soil? Remove old plants and add them to the compost pile or pit.

Your garden containers should also receive attention during the autumn. Once the annual plants are finished, empty the soil and plants into the compost pile. Don't plan to reuse the soil, as it is generally depleted of nutrients and may harbor diseases and insect pests over the winter. I like to rinse out the pots to remove debris or caked on soil and salts. In some cases, some scrubbing with a scouring pad may be needed. Allow them to dry and store them is a dry area that is sheltered from frost.

Take time to make your fall gardening "to-do" list. When spring arrives you'll be pleased you took time to help the garden come through fall and winter with vigor, ready to flourish.


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