University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Fall News Article


Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
and Lisa Halvorsen, Garden Writer

Labor Day, a time for barbecues, family get-togethers, and back-to-school activities, heralds the end of summer.  For gardeners, it also kicks off the "labor-saving" season.

In the vegetable garden, as the season winds down, so do the chores.  Although you should continue to weed to prevent these invaders from going to seed, for the most part, the only real work you need to do this month is to harvest.

For carrots, turnips, beets, and parsnips you can even skip the harvest for now.  Instead, cover these root crops with about 18 to 20 inches of straw, hay, or dry leaves to protect them from frost and cold temperatures.  At temperatures of 28 to 34 degrees F, the starch in these crops will turn to sugar.  By covering with a thick mulch, you prevent the ground from freezing and can continue to harvest these vegetables through mid-winter.

Because grass is growing more slowly, you won't need to mow the lawn quite as often as you did in the summer.  However, don't stop altogether.  You should mow as long as the grass continues to grow, setting the blades of your mower to cut the grass to a height of about two inches.  Save the grass clippings to mulch flowerbeds.

Dead leaves also make an excellent mulch.  Shred (a lawn mower does a good job) and add to your compost pile or set aside to spread around landscape plants in mid-November.  Applying mulch too early in the fall can inhibit the hardening-off process, causing a higher likelihood of winter injury to plants.

You also save on labor at this time of year because of the things you don't have to do, such as pruning or fertilizing shrubs, trees, and fruit trees.  Doing so now may encourage your plants to produce tender, new growth, which will be killed by the winter chill, and will only delay the hardening process needed to allow the plants to overwinter successfully.  You should, of course, prune away any dead or diseased wood that poses a safety hazard.

There are a few tasks you can do now to save on labor in the spring, such as having your soil tested.  If the recommendations call for lime, you can add it now to give it time to neutralize soil acidity and enhance decomposition of crop residues, thus improving the soil by spring.  Kits are available for $10, payable when the sample is submitted, from all regional University of Vermont Extension offices.

The experts at your nursery or garden center also will have more time now to answer your questions and work with you to plan out next year's gardening needs from landscape design and plant selection to new equipment.

Since everyday gardening chores aren't as labor-intensive, this is a good time to tackle new projects, such as putting in a new garden path or perennial bed.  Plants added in the fall often get a better head start than those planted in the heat of summer.  Not only are the temperatures cooler, but rainfall is generally more reliable, so the soil doesn't dry out as quickly.

You still will need to water new plantings, of course, but may be spared the task of frequent watering if rainfall is adequate.  In addition, pest populations decline in the fall, so not only will the plants have a better chance of survival, but you won't have to spend much time or expense to control invading insects.

Other activities for September: buy fall mums and ornamental kale for fall color; install rodent guards around fruit trees to prevent girdling; plant garlic; buy spring bulbs such as tulips and daffodils for planting later in the month.

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