Felder Rushing

Felder Rushing

tuscan kale
Tuscan kale can be planted in the fall, and is actually sweeter after a frost or freeze.

It’s hot. It’s dry. We’re tired, and have other stuff to do. The TV beckons. How many whiny excuses can we come up with to keep from going outside to get late-summer garden chores done before the chilly weather kicks in?

To be honest, I’m just kinda worn out from a long summer of taking care of the lawn, planting fall veggies and dragging a hose from my potted plants to flower and herb borders. My spring and early summer eagerness to get out and get stuff done is long gone.

Oops – am I starting to whine again? It isn’t possible to savor garden success without earlier planning, planting and tending. The Second Law of Thermodynamics—order goes toward chaos—means we gotta stay on top of things, or things start to fall apart.

Beyond just keeping the lawn mowed and flower beds weeded – and of course planting daffodil bulbs and colorful (and nutritious) kale - here are a few things we can do now, maybe over the Labor Day weekend (in between excuses), to help us enjoy our gardens more later.

Lawns Need Late-Summer Attention

Next spring’s lawn weeds can be headed off if we take care of and thicken up the lawn before it starts to go dormant this fall. Here's what to do:

  • Apply a high-potassium winterizer fertilizer soon, to help the lawn prepare ahead of time for its upcoming dormant season.
  • Folks in the warmer parts of the country can actually apply a preventive herbicide to kill cool-season weed seeds as they sprout, rather than wait until the stuff is up and growing to try to kill them with sprays that may harm other plants.
  • If you overseed your lawn for the winter with rye grass or other cool season grasses, get it done early enough for the seed to sprout, grow deep roots and get established before cold weather sets in.
  • Plan now to mow rather than rake fall leaves, as long as you can, as a healthy way to “feed” the worms that take the leaf matter down deep into the lawn and tree roots.
  • When leaves get too thick to mow into oblivion, rake, blow or bag them for the compost or leaf pile later.
compost sign
If you don't have a compost bin, make a leaf pile—and let neighbors know your intentions are good.

Composting and Rain Barrels

Speaking of compost, be careful if you collect bagged grass clippings from neighbors who may use weed killers and fungicides, which can cause problems in your compost pile. My compost pile is finally almost used up, what with putting it on flower beds and spreading it around under shrubs. But early fall colors in neighborhood trees are telling me it won’t be long before the good stuff starts falling once again, and I'll be raking or bagging and hauling to my bins.

  • If you can, lay plastic sheeting (or, in my case, an old shower curtain) underneath a new compost pile to help keep tree roots from growing up into the compost (a very common problem with bare-ground compost piles).
  • I always throw old compost onto the top of new material, to “inoculate” the fresh leaves and grass clippings with beneficial bacteria to help jump-start the composting process.
  • To keep rain barrels from getting stagnant and stinky, use up any old water and clean the barrels before fall rains start to refresh and replenish them.
  • While you are fussing with rain barrels, check gutters to make sure they aren’t clogged with old gunk that can cause them to overflow when new leaves start to fall.

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