University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Fall News Article


Charlie Nardozzi, Horticulturist
National Gardening Association, and
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont

Digging peonies if needed, cleaning up gardens and under apple trees, and planting bulbs are some of the garden activities for this month.

Rake up fallen leaves under fruit trees and dispose of them. Many fruit tree diseases, including apple scab, overwinter on fallen leaves so good sanitation can help minimize the problem. Continue to rake leaves regularly until all leaves have dropped.

When the daytime temperatures no longer rise to above 65 degrees, it's time to pick the green tomatoes. Wrap them in newspaper and let them ripen indoors.

Move fuchsias, geraniums, and other tender plants indoors before the first frost. To save them for next year, cut stems back to the edge of the container, and wash the foliage thoroughly to remove pests. Store the pots in a cool, dark place, but check periodically during the winter to make sure the soil doesn't completely dry out.

You'll make lots less work for yourself next spring if you begin any new garden beds now. If the area is in lawn, cut the grass low, then cover the ground with several layers of dampened newspaper topped with several inches of mulch, compost or manure. By spring the sod will have decomposed and you can dig in the organic matter, add any needed amendments, and plant.

If you have any trees or shrubs you'd like to relocate next spring, prepare them now. With a sharp spade, slice down into the soil around the rootball. This will cut through the roots and encourage the growth of new roots, which will ease transplant shock later on.

Dig overgrown peony clumps with a shovel and cut them in half. Handle with care so the "eyes" or buds at the base of the plants aren't damaged. Plant so the eyes are 1-1/2 to 2 inches below the soil surface. If planted too deeply, they won't flower. Keep at least 3 to 5 buds per division.  Most peonies can be left for many years (10 or more) without the need to divide.

Okay, maybe the weeds have already taken over. Don't give up. Get them out of your garden or else they will make it doubly hard for you next spring. Since bare soil invites weeds, plant a cover crop that you can rototill into the soil in early spring, or cover bare soil with mulch. Layers of wet newspaper covered with straw, compost, or manure will control late fall and early spring weed growth and provide organic matter.

You'll find bargains galore at nurseries this time of year, and fall is still a good time to plant shrubs and trees.  They wont need to put energy into flowers or fruits, so can devote their resources to developing healthy root systems. As long as the soil is around 40 degrees or above (often early November in much of Vermont, or USDA hardiness zone 4), roots will continue to grow.

Just make sure if shopping the fall clearance sales and bargain bins, to still choose healthy plants.  Look for ones without broken limbs, ones with good shapes.  Look for signs of good leaf growth this past season.  Discolored leaves, or browned ones, may indicate lack of fertility, poor watering, or insect pests.

This month is the best time to buy spring flowering bulbs such as tulips and daffodils at local garden stores.  Planting such bulbs towards the end of the month should give them ample time to get established with roots before winter cold.  Use a source of phosphorus (such as rock phosphate or superphosphate) in the holes when planting for best root growth.  Don't use bone meal as it will attract animals which will dig up your bulbs, if not eat them.

If you have lots of deer and other wildlife, you may want to avoid planting tulips as this is a favorite food.  Few if any animals, however, bother daffodils.  Don't forget the smaller or "minor" bulbs such as crocus, grape hyacinths, and glory-of-the-snow. Fritillaries, Siberian squill, and anemones are some of the less common bulbs.  Indian hyacinth (Camassia) and Summer Snowflake (Leucojum) are bloomers for quite late in spring.

Other garden activities for this month include planting some fall mums or asters, harvesting winter squash before a heavy frost, and watching new houseplants for pests.

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