Dirt-y Secrets: Pre-fall routines for healthy plants and animals

By Ranel Hanson
Reader Columnist

The light has changed and the nights have cooled. It is a glorious time of transition. Summer is winding down but we still have lots of warm days to spend in the garden. Now is the time to trim, water deeply, weed and enjoy the last blossoms of summer. It is made all the more sweet because we know a change is coming. We could have frost, but probably not. Still, have frost cloth at the ready for covering plants that are tender. If a frost happens, it will likely be light and of short duration.

A hearty hibiscus. Courtesy photo.

I stop fertilizing almost everything in September. The exception is lawns. When the weather cools and rain is in the forecast, fertilize (organically) for a green spring lawn. The earth and our lake will thank you for not using herbicides. I say, “If it’s green, mow it.” 

For the flower baskets, roses and every other blooming thing, no fertilizer until spring. New growth stimulated by fertilizer will freeze quickly. The plant needs to harden off to protect itself for waiting out the winter. 

Of course, tender annuals can’t survive for long when the weather turns, as it must. Save their seeds. Then, to the compost bin they go. Hollyhock seeds are especially easy to save. Just let the seed pods dry on the plant, then store them in a dry place over the winter.

If you planted sunflowers, they are finished blooming — but don’t throw them away quite yet. Birds love them and they need that extra sustenance to survive the winter. I cut the stalks and weave them into my fence for easy access for the birds and the squirrels. 

No need to fill your feeders with seed yet, because food is plentiful in the form of seeds and berries. But, if you live in the country, be aware of bears that are fattening up for the winter. They will visit your feeder and likely destroy it as they gobble those nutritious seeds. It seems that bears can smell sunflower seeds a mile away.

Gladiolus and dahlias will need to be lifted when their foliage dies back. They can’t survive winter in the garden, so you must store them in a garage or shed that stays above freezing. Keep them dry and cover them with sawdust or dry soil until ready to plant in spring. Tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, alliums, lilies and other bulbs can stay in place and sleep away the cold months. I spread a layer of mulch and a sprinkling of bone meal over the top of all bulbs. Spring will bring gorgeous color.

If you put tender houseplants out in the garden for summer, now is the time to plan to bring them inside. At the first sign of frost, put them back in their winter home. It is a good idea to spray them with insecticidal soap first to avoid bringing freeloading pests inside. 

Here is the recipe to make that yourself , courtesy of Meyla Johnston: 2.5 tablespoons vegetable oil, 2.5 tablespoons Doctor Bronner’s plain soap and 1 gallon of water (distilled is best). I put the solution in a spray bottle and drench the plants the day before I bring them inside.

Some ornamental trees suffered this summer. The wet, cold spring followed by the hot, dry summer, made them vulnerable to pests and diseases. As an example, I have a beautiful, mature, tricolor beech tree in my backyard. It has always been the very picture of health — until this year. I noticed it looking a little sickly (leaves wilting, browning and dropping) even after the deep watering I had been doing. Upon closer inspection, I found an aphid problem. 

I don’t use poisons, so I decided to experiment with the high-pressure sprayer. It worked! Here’s what I did: I simply blasted the whole tree with the highest pressure I could muster. Since aphids cling to the underside of leaves, standing under the tree was very effective. And, I didn’t mind getting wet on a 100-degree day.

On the other hand, my 3-year-old magnolia is thriving and re-blooming, as if it is spring. Beautiful magenta buds cover this little six-foot tree and our resident moose seems to have no appetite for it. No aphids or other pests, either, and all it needs is fish emulsion fertilizer and deep watering. Hurray for the hardy! The hibiscus are thriving, too.

Enjoy this lovely pre-fall.

While we have you ...

... if you appreciate that access to the news, opinion, humor, entertainment and cultural reporting in the Sandpoint Reader is freely available in our print newspaper as well as here on our website, we have a favor to ask. The Reader is locally owned and free of the large corporate, big-money influence that affects so much of the media today. We're supported entirely by our valued advertisers and readers. We're committed to continued free access to our paper and our website here with NO PAYWALL - period. But of course, it does cost money to produce the Reader. If you're a reader who appreciates the value of an independent, local news source, we hope you'll consider a voluntary contribution. You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.

You can contribute at either Paypal or Patreon.

Contribute at Patreon Contribute at Paypal

You may also like...

Close [x]

Want to support independent local journalism?

The Sandpoint Reader is our town's local, independent weekly newspaper. "Independent" means that the Reader is locally owned, in a partnership between Publisher Ben Olson and Keokee Co. Publishing, the media company owned by Chris Bessler that also publishes Sandpoint Magazine and Sandpoint Online. Sandpoint Reader LLC is a completely independent business unit; no big newspaper group or corporate conglomerate or billionaire owner dictates our editorial policy. And we want the news, opinion and lifestyle stories we report to be freely available to all interested readers - so unlike many other newspapers and media websites, we have NO PAYWALL on our website. The Reader relies wholly on the support of our valued advertisers, as well as readers who voluntarily contribute. Want to ensure that local, independent journalism survives in our town? You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.