Green thumbs share fall gardening tips

This article submitted by Molly Connors on 10/8/96.

The leaves are falling. The frosts are coming. Your gardening is all done for the year, right?

Think again.

There are plenty of things to do now that will help your plants and garden through the winter.

Urban and Doreen Fuchs, who are working toward their Master Gardener certifications, have some fall gardening hints.

Gardeners should dig bulbs, like dahlias, gladiolus and calla lilies, that won't survive the winter if they're left in the ground.

Cheri Pinske, who is a Master Gardener and owner of Wagon Wheel Nursery, said that spring-flowering bulbs - daffodils, crocus and tulips - should be planted now.

After everything is frozen, perennials should be cut down. They should be between four and eight inches off the ground, Urban said. Then, cover perennials with mulch or leaves for winter protection.

Also, keep watering the perennials. They should stay moist in the fall so the "root stock is good and strong" and will come back in the spring, Doreen said.

Lawns should also be kept wet, Pinske said.

Urban and Doreen said they cut down their roses and push the ground up around the bushes. They cover the bushes with leaves and put wire over the leaves to hold them in place.

Long hay or slough grass can also be used to cover roses. Don't use straw or anything that might have "weed seeds" in it, because the weeds will grow up around the roses.

Pinske agreed with the Fuchs'. "Tipping or mounding are the best ways of overwintering" roses, she said. She also recommends removing diseased foliage in mid-October and spraying the rest of the plant with fungicide.

All foliage should be cleared off of gardens. Urban and Doreen get out all of the weeds in the fall. Then they pull everything else out and till the garden so that it's "black."

Bernice Liestman, who runs Liestman Gardens on the northwest side of Paynesville, also tills everything under. She spreads composted chicken and horse manure over the ground before she tills. Don't use too much fertilizer, Liestman said, or flowers won't bloom. The plant will be healthy, but it will have leaves and no blossoms.

All the vegetables, annuals and other foliage that comes off gardens in the fall can be added to a compost pile. To begin a compost pile, mix dry material and semi-dry material, Urban said. Turn the compost pile so that oxygen is mixed in, Doreen said.

When the vegetation starts rotting, it produces heat. At this point, more matter can be added to the pile. Wet grass clippings and dry leaves are a good mixture for beginning a compost pile.

Do not mix any foliage that is diseased into the compost pile, said Urban and Doreen, Pinske and Liestman.

Urban and Doreen feed any diseased, blighted or wilted plants to their cattle. Liestman's horses end up eating hers. For gardeners who don't have animals to eat unusable foliage, Pinske recommends burning or hauling it away. If the diseased plants are used in a compost pile, the disease will affect any plants fertilized with that compost.

Liestman and the Fuchs bring their geraniums indoors for the winter. Liestman brings hers inside in pots.

Urban said they pull up their geraniums and put them in paper sacks in their basement. They check on the geraniums once a month. If the plants look dry, they spray the roots with water. In February or March, they put the geranuims back in soil and put them in their greenhouse. In January and in March, they take cuttings from the geraniums. If they leave the geraniums until May, "it's too long · the roots are dried up," Doreen said.

The Fuchs also save sweet potatoes for the next year's root stalk. Sweet potatoes are expensive and can't be planted from seed, Urban said.

Any plants that are brought indoors should be brought in gradually, Pinske said. Bring the plants in for a couple of hours.

"Let them get used to being in the house," she said.

Any plants brought inside should be sprayed with insecticide. This gets rid of any insects on the plants. These insects aren't harmful, Pinske said, but "you don't want them in your house." Anyone who doesn't want to use insecticide can wash the plants thoroughly with water.

Pinske has been a Master Gardener for six years. She spends most of her time with Wagon Wheel, which she and her husband, Ken, started 18 years ago. She does have a small vegetable garden.

Urban and Doreen Fuchs have been married 41 years. They've planted a garden every spring for 40 years. During their first year of marriage, Urban was stationed in Alaska, so they didn't plant a garden there. Urban and Doreen have both flower gardens and vegetable gardens. They have between 50 and 75 varieties of perennial flowers, which don't have to be replanted every year.

Liestman opens the flower gardens that are in her yard to the public during the summer. Her gardens are closed for the season. She'll open again in mid-August. Liestman has several different beds. She's planted some over old tree stumps and in hard-to-mow corners of her yard. She has over 40 different varieties of perennial and annual flowers.

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