It has been a rough year for many gardeners. Record amounts of rainfall made vegetable gardening extremely difficult. If you were lucky enough to get seeds to germinate, fungal leaf spots were rampant due to plant leaves being constantly damp.
If you managed to have fruit set in your garden, there was barely enough sunlight to help ripen the fruit. Waterlogged soil caused many landscape plants to wilt or die.
Good gardeners are optimists with short memories. It is now time to forget all of the troubles that came this year and look ahead to next year. We can't predict how the weather will treat us next year, but preparing our gardens and landscapes now will ensure a good head start. Fall is the perfect time for several garden chores.
You may choose to clean up your vegetable garden plot. Many people simply let their old plants die, breakdown and become "green manure," helping improve soil fertility. This can be a useful practice, however, it can also hurt you in the long run. Decaying plants can harbor diseases and insects throughout the winter. Fall is a good time to add compost or organic matter to your garden soils to improve air flow and drainage.
The cooling soil temperatures that come with fall are perfect for planting spring-flowering bulbs, such as narcissus, tulips, hyacinth and daffodils. As a general rule, plant bulbs three to four times as deep as the width of the bulb. Placing chicken wire over freshly-planted bulb beds will help prevent squirrels and chipmunks from digging them up.
Consider using fallen tree leaves as free mulch in flower and garden beds. Again, avoid using diseased leaves if possible. A thin layer of leaves will help conserve soil moisture and will eventually break down and improve soil tilth. If you have a compost pile, use your lawn mower to chop up tree leaves for speedier breakdown.
As outside temperatures drop in fall, insects will again begin to enter our homes in search of a warmer environment. Make sure to keep mulch away from your home's foundation. Prune off any stray tree branches that are touching your house to prevent insect movement.
Use granular insecticides labeled for outdoor use along your foundation. Use indoor-labeled insecticides along baseboards and doorways. Sticky traps and baits can be places under sinks and cabinets.
As freezing temperatures approach, drain all garden hoses to avoid freezing and cracking. Use styrofoam spigot covers to help protect from freezing. Drain the fuel from mowers and other power equipment. Rinse off all hand tools and coat with a thin layer of multi-purpose oil to avoid rust. Clean all pruners and hand-snips with rubbing alcohol or a bleach solution to kill any leftover diseased material.
Clark MacAllister is the Dawson County extension agent. For more information, call (706)265-2442.