PRAIRIE GARDENER: No rest for the weary; September jobs abound

Once Labor Day has passed, most gardeners began to feel a little melancholy. The growing season is about over, and we face a myriad of tasks before the onset of another prairie winter. Sometimes, the list of tasks appears overwhelming, so the bes...

Once Labor Day has passed, most gardeners began to feel a little melancholy. The growing season is about over, and we face a myriad of tasks before the onset of another prairie winter. Sometimes, the list of tasks appears overwhelming, so the best thing is to set priorities so you can get everything wrapped up by early November when we can experience our first winter storm or blizzard.

So, let's go over the entries in our garden job jar and winnow them into order, making the task easier.

Five chores to tackle early:

&bull: Clean up the garden. We often start this job after a killing frost, but it you garden is harvested, you can start now. Pull spent or frost-damaged annuals and vegetables. Cut back perennials that have yellowed or show signs of frost damage, but leave healthy foliage on perennials. It will continue to provide nutrients to the plants for the following year. Dig out perennial weeks and discard if they have hard seed. Toss plant debris into the compost pile until it is diseased or insect-infested. Don't compost tomato vines, especially if they are diseased. Trim iris foliage down to 6 inches to prevent overwintering iris borer eggs.

• Consider leaving ornamental grasses and perennials such as coneflowers and sedums intact. Seed heads and grasses peeking through the snow add beauty to a barren winter landscape.


• Start raking. If a thick layer of leaves accumulates on the lawn, it will reduce air circulation and leave grass more vulnerable to snow mold. Compost your leaves or, better yet, fill plastic bags with leaves and save them to use as winter mulch. Don't rake leaves into the street where they may not be picked up by the street sweeper. Sodden leaves can wind up in storm sewers, lakes and rivers. If the layer of leaves on your lawn is thin enough that you can still see grass blades through it, you needn't rake: just chop the leaves by running the lawn mower over them.

• Water regularly. Continue to water young trees, shrubs, evergreens and lawn. Keep mowing as long as the grass keeps growing, but leave it 2 to 3 inches long for the winter. You can sow grass seed or fertilizer your lawn until mid-September. This will allow enough time for the young grass plants to withstand the cold winter. You want to end fertilization for basically everything in mid-month as you don't want a lot of succulent growth as winter approaches.

• Harvest your vegetables and fruit. Many plants can take some light frost, others can unless protected. The latter includes tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. You can either enjoy them now or freeze or can the surplus for later. If you have a cold basement, you can store potatoes, onions and many root vegetables for winter use. If you have more than you can use, check with food shelves or congregate feeding locations to see if they can use the fresh produce. Most will welcome your donation. Members of the cabbage family, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, can withstand light frost. In fact, cold temperatures will enhance their flavor. Apples also can take light frosts. However, once the mercury plunges into the lower 20s, produce will be damaged.

• If you have yellow and light green tomatoes, bring them indoors to a dark, warm place and place single-layer in boxes. Most will slowly ripen, providing you with fresh tomatoes for the table well into autumn.

Five chores that can wait:

• Mulch perennials. Spread winter mulch over the perennial beds - about 6 to 8 inches of dry straw or loose, dry leaves. Leaves tend to mat if wet, so store in plastic bags until just prior to the approach of winter. You should layer 4 inches of leaves around newly planted trees and shrubs. But wait until the ground freezes to apply winter mulch. If you add mulch too early, the chance of mold and decay is much higher.

• Put away outdoor pots. Dump out the soil and scrub containers clean. Then store containers upside down in the basement or a shelf in the garage.

• Clean gutters and tools. After most leaves have fallen, clean gutters and down spots. Check for leaks and low spots and make repairs. Clean and store garden tools, rakes and shovels. Use a paper towel to rub a thing coating of motor oil on blades to prevent rusting.


• Protect hybrid and other tender roses, including hybrid tea, grandiflora and floribunda.

Shrub roses generally don't need winter protection, but you can still mulch if they are in vulnerable area. Then heap snow on roses during the winter. For tender roses, you can use the Minnesota tip method. Gently loosen the soil around the rose bush with a garden fork and dig a trench extending out from the base of the plant. Then tie the rose canes together, apply a fungicide and gently tip the bush back into the trench, covering with a layer of soil and mulch. These practices protect plants from the freezing and thawing cycles of unpredictable prairie winters. Snow may melt in a mid-winter thaw, leaving plants vulnerable to a sudden drop in temperature.

Creepy crawlers

It could be another plentiful year for box elder bugs, Asian lady beetles and other air-and ground-based autumn creepy crawlers. The warm spring and dry summer could well lead to a larger-than-normal crop of these pests. Once temperatures drop, these insects will look for ways to invade our snug homes for a winter sojourn. Generally, the best solution is to seal any gaps to keep them outside the house. You can treat clusters with insecticide and vacuum those up that do get indoors. If you prefer, a detergent-and-water solution can be used instead of insecticides.

Butterfly update

This has been a great year for monarch butterflies. Sadly, we did have a high casualty rate when both cities sprayed for mosquitoes, but more have arrived as they head to their winter home in Mexico. Monarchs have one simple need -- milkweeds. There are about 100-plus varieties of milkweed. They can spread and are toxic. However, if we all grew a few of these in our gardens, we would not only attract more but we also would help increase depleted numbers. Milkweed is the only plant the adult monarchs will lay their tiny eggs.

Koehler is the Herald's garden columnist. Send garden questions to him in care of the Grand Forks Herald, Box 6008, Grand Forks ND 58206-6008. The garden show, which aired Friday afternoons, ended its season Sept. 10 over KNOX Radio 1310 (A.M.). The show will return to the airwaves in the spring. Thanks to all of those who called in questions during this 10th annual event.

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