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Fall gardening: There's still plenty to do!

Bottle gentian, my favorite late season, native perennial

Fall is an interesting time in the garden. Monday, my thermometer read 86 degrees and the humidity was stifling at a record 72%. Rain from the previous weekend left everything damp and the smell of things decomposing was is the air. Fall? In Minnesota? Hard to believe!

But then things cooled down overnight as they tend to do here. Minnesota weather leaves gardeners guessing: can I still plant? Should I cover my plants? How much should I water? Is it to late to...(fill in the blank)? So here are a few things we can still do in our yards and gardens over the next couple of weeks.

Plant trees and shrubs. Fall is an excellent time to plant woody plants. Temperatures are typically cooler and fall rains keep the soil moist, reducing transplant shock and drought stress. If rains are scarce, however, be sure to water plants till your soil freezes and won't absorb water any longer. For guidelines on watering newly planted trees and shrubs, visit our Extension webpage Water Wisely.

Mow your lawn. 
 As long as it grows, keep on mowing your lawn. Keep your mower set at 3". After a hard freeze, you'll see the grass growth stop. Service your mower and put it away for the winter. It's also a good time to spread grass seed in preparation for a lush lawn next spring. Dormant Seeding

Plant spring bulbs. After a long winter, the sight of spring bulbs like tulips, daffodils, crocus, and snowdrops warms your gardening heart! Now is the time to plant those bulbs. Most bulbs grow well in full sun including under deciduous trees as they leaf out later than the bulbs bloom. Interplant bulbs in ground covers, shade gardens, amidst evergreens, and in your entry garden where you'll see them every time you walk in /out of your front door.

Watch our video to learn how to plant a spring bulb garden.

Prep houseplants outdoors for the indoors. If you're like me, your houseplants have been enjoying
the outdoor deck or patio all summer long. With night temperatures forecast in the 40's, it is time to think about prepping houseplants to head indoors. Examine plants for insects (especially under the leaves), clean out plant debris that may have accumulated on the soil surface, and wipe off the pot including the bottom and saucers. Check each plant for damaged parts and trim off, and consider transplanting into a slightly larger (2"+) pot and fresh, sterile potting mix. Read more on our Houseplants webpage.

Freeze in the forecast. Sometimes our plants are "nipped" with cold; in other words, they may suffer a little frost damage on leaves and flowers, but not enough to kill them. If this is the case and you want to protect tender plants, you can cover them with blankets (remove them in the morning). Depending on the size, pots can be moved indoors (house, shed or garage) for the night, or group them together in a protected location. They can also be covered with blankets.

Ultimately, we experience a hard freeze, and then snow. Hopefully, you have accomplished all you wanted and can curl up on the couch next to your newly potted houseplant and next year's seed catalog. Happy gardening!

Author: Julie Weisenhorn, Extension educator, Horticulture

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