University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Fall News Article


By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor

Dr. Vern Grubinger, Extension Associate Professor
University of Vermont

Fall is the time to get ready for spring. In September you can start putting the garden to bed, plant bulbs for spring bloom, and get your soil tested in preparation for the next growing season.

Begin your garden clean up by pulling up bygone bean and pea plantings and other vines and plants that have ceased production. To ensure that this plant material composts thoroughly, chop it up or at least cut it into smaller pieces. Layer succulent green material with dried leaves or straw when building the compost pile. Sprinkle on a handful of nitrogen fertilizer every few layers to promote rapid decomposition .

You should continue to weed the garden even as harvests are underway. This will keep the weeds from going to seed and thus help reduce the number of weed seedlings that appear next spring. Be especially vigilant in removing any new species of weeds that may have been introduced in manure or compost. Stopping these invaders before they gain a solid foothold can prevent a battle that may persist for many years to come. Make notes about what went right--or wrong--in the garden this year. Note locations of crops, so you can plan a rotation for next season. Jot down the names of crop varieties you want to remember--those that did really well, or those that had undesirable traits.

This is also a good time to get your soil tested. You can obtain a soil testing kit from your local University of Vermont (UVM) Extension office or the Agricultural and Environmental Testing Laboratory, Hills Building, UVM (802-656-3030). The cost is only $10, payable when you submit the sample.

In areas of the garden where crops have been removed, oats can be sown as a winter cover crop. Sprinkle on a pound of seed every 300 square feet and rake in lightly. You can sow oats throughout the month, whenever you finish cleaning up a new area of the garden, and still get sufficient ground cover to protect against erosion. The oats will die over the winter, making them easy to deal with next spring.

For flowers from April through the end of May or later, plant daffodils, tulips, crocuses, hyacinths, and other spring-flowering bulbs by the end of this month. Fall planting allows the bulbs to develop a solid root system and satisfy the cold requirement needed for flowering.

Buy only top quality bulbs, ones that are firm, large, and of good color. Cheap bulbs generally produce poor, and sometimes no, flowers.

Soil temperatures need to be below 60 degrees F before planting, but you can prepare the site any time. Select a location with good drainage and light shade at midday. To enrich the soil, add one pound of superphosphate or two pounds of bone meal per 100 square feet, and work into the soil well. Skip the bonemeal if skunks or raccoons are a problem in your area. You also can use bulb food, which is available at garden centers Plant bulbs two to three times as deep as the bulb's greatest dimension, pointed end up. For example, the daffodil is two inches across and so should be planted four to six inches deep. Space large bulbs like daffodils four to six inches apart, smaller ones like crocuses, one to two inches apart.

Cannas, dahlias, gladioli, and other tender bulbs will need to be dug up and stored for the winter. Dig carefully and shake off excess soil. Store in a cool, dry location. Do not let bulbs freeze.

Mice and other small rodents can damage or kill young trees by chewing the bark and girdling the tree. Protect young trees this winter by removing tall grass from around the trunk to prevent nesting. Then wrap a one-fourth inch hardware cloth around the base of the trunk to prevent rodents from nibbling on the tree.

September is apple picking month, and regardless if you pick your own or buy them at the roadside stand, apples require proper storage to prevent spoilage. A cool, humid place such as a root cellar or cool area in the basement is ideal.

Apples should not be stored with other fruits or vegetables because apples give off ethylene gas, a ripening agent that causes other foods to spoil. Cover the fruit with a moist burlap cloth to maintain a high humidity and prevent shrinkage. Check periodically to remove soft or rotted fruit.

Other activities for September: plant hardy mums for fall color; fertilize and lime lawns; sow a late season crop of Swiss chard, lettuce, or kale.

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