Season 1 • Episode 5 - September 5, 2022

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This time on the Garden Time podcast we are talking about fall gardening tips. For the 17 years of the weekly Garden Time program, Jan McNeilan, retired OSU Extension Agent, joined us once a month with her tips for the garden. She would give us topical and timely tips that we could do in our garden locally. If there were insect or disease problems that people were facing, she would always have great ‘university backed research’ to help gardeners solve their problems.

We thought it would be great to continue the partnership on our podcast and Jan was very gracious in agreeing to be with us again. This podcast we are talking about the fall and approaching winter and what we can be doing in our gardens. Jan came with a list of topics and we dove right in.

We started with garden evaluation. This is the process of walking around your garden and seeing how your plants are doing. What is struggling? Is there too much sun for some and too much shade for others? Are some plants too crowded and need to be divided or moved? Jan noted that she found some plants that were not doing so well. She had a hydrangea that she has been pouring water on and it was suffering, while a fern at its base was doing great. Out comes the hydrangea and in goes more ferns and similar plants. This is the time that you can be doing a tiny bit of cleaning. Cleaning out dead annuals from your garden and pots can be done now. You can also discard some diseased plants and throw them in your garbage. If you compost them, they may spread those diseases to your plants next year. Getting them in the garbage will get those diseases far away from your future garden. For those plants that have winter interest or provide food and shelter for the native wildlife, you can leave those in place. In fact, keep part of your garden a little messy. Don’t be in a rush to have clean and pristine garden beds. The ground dwelling pollinators like bumblebees need those messy areas for their nests and protection over the cold winter months. Speaking of birds and pollinators, we also talked about seed heads on your plants. You save some of those seeds and plant them again the following season (they will not always be the same plant, but something similar) or you can leave the heads and let the birds eat them.

We also talked about pruning. This is a touchy area. You can cut back some of your perennials but be careful. For some of your perennial plants and shrubs you could be cutting off the blooms for next year. Spring blooming plants need to be pruned right after they bloom in the spring. Starting in the summer they start setting buds for next year’s blooms. Lilacs, rhododendrons and azaleas all should have been clipped months ago. Others like hydrangeas, rosemary, and roses can be cut back at any time. Roses can be trimmed and they will send out new growth. When we get closer to winter you can cut them back to about waist high to prevent wind damage. When you get to February then roses can be trimmed even harder in preparation for the spring.

We then moved to bringing your indoor plants back inside for the fall. Some plants like Christmas cactus can handle some cold temps, but once they come in they will start to bloom pretty fast. For those other plants they can stay outside until temps get to the lower 40s and then you can clean them up for the move inside. This means looking for pests and diseases and cleaning the plants before you do anything. You can also remove the top inch of soil from the pots and replace it with new, fresh potting soil. This removal of old soil will get rid of pests and insect eggs.

Finally, we finished the first half of the show by talking about protecting your tender outdoor plants. If you have a sensitive plant, it may need a good layer of mulch to protect the crown of the plant. We also talked about a hardy banana that Jan’s neighbor has. This plant can survive, but the leaves will get wet and rotten when the frost comes. She recommends that you cut the trunk of the banana, leaving about 2-4 feet above ground. Then wrap it with bubble wrap, bury it in leaves in a wire cage, or cover it as much as possible. If you have plants in large pots or no room to move plants indoors, cover them the same way or do like Jan and pile leaves over them. When spring comes around, keep an eye on the containers. Remove the leaves when new growth starts to push so the new plants can harden off and slow down their growth. If those plants are under your eaves, keep them watered. Even in winter some plants will need water to survive and make it to the next growing season.

After our break we talked about planting. We have always heard that fall is a great time to plant, and it’s true! The days are still pretty warm and the soil is warmer as well. In the spring we wait until the soil temps get warm before we plant, in the fall that is not a problem. Jan said it is best to plant 6 weeks before the chance of a hard frost. She focuses on plantings that have more than one season of interest and then she plants them where she can enjoy them. Her view from her kitchen window is a favorite location for her new plants. The key to a plant doing well in the fall is water. Even if fall rains return, they may not be heavy enough showers to water in your plants. Jan has always been a big fan of ‘mudding in’ your plants. This is where you dig a hole as deep as your plant container and twice as wide. You fill the hole with water and then place the plant in the hole and fill around it with soil. Make sure that your soil is pressed down and the air bubbles are out and then deeply water that same plant at least weekly until the rains return in earnest. Fall is also the time for planting your spring and early summer bulbs. Judy had brought some bulbs for us to look at including tulips, daffodils and garlic. The garlic can be planted now and harvested in late June and early July next summer. Break apart the bulb into cloves and then plant those cloves in your garden according to the package instructions. Then we talked about planting the tulips and daffodils. You can simply follow the instructions on soil prep and planting depth and you’ll be fine. We used to hear people talk about planting the ‘pointy side up’, but the bulbs know which way to grow and will do fine, even if you plant them upside down.

The benefits of protecting your fall and winter plants with a good mulch is key. A good mulch will protect the crown of the plant and prevent freezing, plus it can retain moisture and provide nutrients for the plant as the mulch decomposes. It will enrich your soil. You can add fertilizer if you want, but it can wash away or not break down fast enough if you get a frost. Many gardeners do what Jan does and use the fall leaves to cover their garden beds.

We then finished by talking about planting and caring for your lawn. Some people still like a nice green lawn and what you do in the fall can help your lawn survive and thrive in the new year. Ryan did a story with JB Instant Sod for the Garden Time show and he had some great tips for rejuvenating your lawn. First, you have to remove the old lawn either with a turf cutter or by spraying it with a broad herbicide (like a Round-up), then you add a couple of inches of garden mulch or compost and roto-till that in. You then roll it to remove the bumps and lumps. Next you can treat the soil with lime to sweeten the soil (making the soil a neutral pH). This will create a more favorable condition for the seed to germinate. You then spread the new seed, making sure that you use the seed that is right for your sun or shade conditions. You can then apply another light layer of mulch, and water it in. Make sure that you keep the soil lightly moist. Once the seed germinates, it needs to stay moist until the plant reaches about 3-4 inches in height. Remember, fall is the perfect time to act, the soil temperatures are warm and the seed can establish before those cold winds blow.

Places where you can find great gardening information include your local University Extension Office. Jan said that there are offices in nearly every county in the country! Locally, you can check out the Oregon State University Extension website at https://extension.oregonstate.edu/gardening. The OSU Extension Service Clackamas County Master Gardener 10 Minute University also has some great handouts and videos that Jan referred to. You can find them at https://clackamascountymastergardeners.org/10-minute-university/. Also if you are looking for specific plant information you can look up the society or group that focuses on that plant. Roses, dahlias, rhododendrons and many others all have societies with tons of expert information that you can access. Look for the group in your area.


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