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John Fulton


John Fulton
Former County Extension Director



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In The Backyard

Horticulture columns and tips done on a timely basis

Fall Things

Posted by John Fulton -

Fall has been with us by the calendar, and now temperatures are looking like they are going to coincide with what we consider fall. Fall brings many opportunities to do things before winter, but many are best left undone.

To begin with, you may have noticed a very large number of brown needles on evergreens this fall. That may even have translated to large piles of needles under your evergreens in the past few weeks, especially white pines. In most cases there is no cause to worry. Evergreens usually only keep one to four years of needles (one to two years growth for white pines) on the ends of branches. Depending on weather, the old needles will turn brown and drop off. Usually this is a gradual process that isn't noticed too much. This year is happened all at once. If the buds on branch tips are plump and green, odds are your tree is fine. There are a few species of pines, such as white and Austrian, where problems may be severe. White pines may suddenly wilt and die. They are not well adapted to many of our weather extremes such as hot, cold, very wet, or very dry. The sudden decline and death of white pines is caused by environment, and not some treatable affliction. Austrian pines are very susceptible to several fungal diseases, and their life expectancy without consistent treatment will be in the 30 to 40 year range.

Several calls have come in concerning the proper time to prune or cut things back. Let's start with some flowers. Keep in mind that perennials keep building their food reserves until all the leaves and stems are brown. For peonies and other similar flowers, you want to wait until all the above ground plant parts are brown. Then you can mow them off, or cut them at ground level. This same principal goes for most perennial flowers – wait until the above ground parts are no longer green. Remember many forbs and flowers such as mums keep much of their stored energy for the winter in the couple of inches above ground.

For trees and shrubs, pruning is best done at other times. Flowering shrubs should be done after they flower, high sap flow trees are best done in December, and most other trees are best done in February. The evergreen trees and shrubs are best done in late June.

Keep mowing that grass until it stops growing. Keep in mind that you should remove no more that 1/3 of the leaf blade at any mowing. This helps reduce the thatch build up that can lead to disease problems. At this mowing frequency, there is no need to catch clippings or use a thatching system (unless you are thatching leaves as you go).

Plan for next year's garden planting scheme now. It wouldn't hurt a bit to apply some lawn and garden limestone to the entire area, especially those where you will have tomatoes, green beans, and peas. The only areas to not put lime on are areas where acid-loving crops, such as blueberries, will be. Assuming you are applying about a pound of nitrogen per 1000 square feet, apply about 4.25 pounds of lime to the same area. This rate would also be appropriate for lawns.

If you are looking to use the iron chlorosis plugs for pin oaks or sweet gums, between December and February are the best months to insert the plugs. During this time, the sap should be low in the trees and it will pick up the micronutrients as it rises in the spring. This should help you get away from the symptoms of light colored leaves and premature browning of leaves.



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