Dig Into Fall Gardening With Rutgers Cooperative Extension Service
Fall is the time to put the garden to bed, said Susan Enhardt-Servidio, horticulturalist for the Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Ocean County.
The past summer has been a stressful one for lawns and plants because of the near-drought conditions. Both trees and perennial beds may be looking tired and malnourished. It goes against our nature not to feed something that seems to need it but because of the sustained dry weather, it’s not a good idea at this time. “Fertilizing stressed trees can be a problem because of the salts in most fertilizers,” explained Enhardt-Servidio. “It’s best to hold off until spring. Hollies and evergreens can be fertilized but use half as much as you would normally. You only want to be feeding the roots and not the whole tree.”
“Fall fertilizers for lawns have less nitrogen,” she added.
Composting backyard leaves can be a pleasant chore in the autumn but take care that you don’t add pear leaves or fruit tree leaves that may have been affected by rust. “That’s something you don’t want to keep around,” she said.
If you have been keeping up on mulching the garden, you may not want to add any more compost, and be particularly aware not to put too much around trees. “Two inches is enough. And don’t make a ‘mulch volcano,’ piling it up around the tree trunk, as that can become a haven for insect pests and do more damage than good,” she said.
Summer squash, zucchini and even some tomato plants are probably ready to be taken out of the ground and added to the compost pile if they have been free of disease. But don’t cover up the vegetable garden plot yet. It’s time now to plant your fall crop: carrots, cabbages, broccoli and Brussels sprouts, as well as lettuces of all type and even peas – “any of the cabbage family, and those plants that like it cool and have a relatively fast growing season.”
There are other pleasant chores to do in the garden once the cooler weather arrives. “October is my favorite month,” said the horticulturalist. “You can cut back your peonies right to the ground if the leaves are looking ugly. And daylily stems and dead leaves can be weeded out. You want to remove anything that could rot or hold disease or insects.
“Autumn is the time to divide your perennials: your hostas, daylilies, daffodils and other spring flowering bulbs. It’s also a good time to plant bulbs for the spring.”
The Cooperative Extension is holding a workshop on dividing perennials on Thursday, Oct. 6 at 7 p.m. in their office at 1623 Whiteville Road in Toms River. Please register by calling 732-349-1246.
“Fall is also prime tick season,” Enhardt-Servidio reminds us. The Cooperative Extension will help identify ticks you may find on your body and send them to be tested for Lyme disease.
The Rutgers Cooperative Extension is open Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. A horticulturalist is available 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. to answer any of your planting or gardening questions. They will also try to identify and prescribe help for any diseased plant that you bring in. Call or visit njaes.rutgers.edu/extension for free access to dozens of plant and agricultural fact sheets.