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Growing Green: Putting Your Garden to Bed

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Fall is a bittersweet time of beginnings and endings. Bright yellow school buses abound as children start a brand new school year. Rose bushes burst with their last colorful blossoms; tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers are plentiful; and my kitchen is filled with the mixed aromas of spaghetti sauce, drying tomatoes and salsa. (Sometimes I feel like a squirrel readying my abode for the long winter ahead.) After a long summer of garden chores, and a September of harvesting and preserving, I always look forward to putting my garden to bed for the winter. Some well spent time in your garden this fall will save you time next spring. The following list of fall garden chores will focus your efforts this season and give you some breathing room next spring.

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Your first step is to clean out any beds that have finished producing. Removing dead plant material helps protect your garden from disease causing pathogens that can overwinter in the soil. Dispose of spent plants by composting them (if healthy) or throwing them away (if diseased). If you haven't had a soil test done in awhile, send that sample in. Fall is the ideal time to add needed amendments based on soil test recommendations. If you are planning to start a new garden bed in the spring, get it ready now. A clean garden bed with tilled and amended soil is ready to be planted in the spring.

Fall is the time to plant garlic, tulips, daffodils and many other spring flowering bulbs. Choose the largest bulbs you can find. Remember that these bulbs are energy storage units, and the larger they are, the more robust your flowers will be. Be sure to plant bulbs according to package directions. The basic rule of thumb is that the hole should be at least 3 times as deep as the width of the bulb.

Lift tender bulbs like gladiola, dahlia and tuberous begonia. Carefully remove the bulbs from the ground, leaving any foliage attached. Let them dry in a well-ventilated area for a week or so. Remove any remaining foliage and store in a cool dry place in an onion bag, paper bag or peat moss. For more information on tender bulbs, visit: http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/dg1117.html

Many tender perennials need some extra cover to help them survive the cold winter months. Roses can be heavily mulched or tipped; strawberries need a 4"-6" mulch cover, and newly planted or tender perennials will also benefit from a mulch cover. Wait until the ground has frozen, to avoid providing habitat for overwintering rodents that can damage your strawberries and perennials.

Autumn is the final opportunity for many plants to reproduce, so they put one last effort into seed production. Weed your garden thoroughly, paying particular attention to those plants that are going to seed.

Aerate, de-thatch, over-seed and fertilize your lawn to give it a green jumpstart next spring.

If you have any other questions regarding fall garden chores, visit the extension website at: www.extension.umn.edu.

Here's hoping that your fall harvest is abundant, and your garden beds are clean and disease free.

Robin Trott is a Horticulture Educator with University of Minnesota Extension.

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