The harvest is over (unless some sort of greenhouse is present) for another year. The garden is ready for bed and the cold winter months ahead. Wait a moment. Is the calendar really at mid-November? Amazingly there are landscapes, in our diocese, that have flowers still blooming and tomatoes on the vine with no shelter from a greenhouse. For those whose favorite season is fall, you have been blessed with a double-dose. The crisp cool evening air, cold early morning hours and the sun-filled afternoons have everyone taking advantage of this extended fall weather. November is the perfect time for protecting roses, yard clean up, applying mulch, maintenance and lawn fertilization.
Fall is the best time of year to fertilize Colorado’s bluegrass lawns. Fertilize with nitrogen sometime during late September to early November at lower altitudes, and earlier in the season if your home is in the mountain region. The benefits of fall fertilizing include a healthier turf before winter, a healthier root system, and stimulating a turf that greens up earlier in the spring without excessive top growth. Fall fertilization produces dense, green spring lawns without the mowing chores that come with spring fertilization. This should be a part of every good lawn care program.
Follow the application instructions on the fertilizer carefully and remember that turf must be green when nitrogen is applied. It is important that the fall lawn soil is moist so the nitrogen will dissolve easily. Since the weather has been so dry, irrigate and wait a day before fertilizing. Fertilizer applied to very dry, cold soil or to dormant turf won’t be used efficiently. While nitrogen is the most important nutrient, there is no harm if fertilizers also contain some phosphorous or potassium. Use a high-nitrogen fertilizer around “25-5-5” — 25 percent nitrogen, five percent phosphorous and five percent potassium.
Most roses benefit some winter protection to protect them from our extreme cold and dry winds. If roses have grown excessively, they may be subject to snow and wind damage. To prevent this, prune all tall plants by one-third of their height in November. Otherwise, mid-April pruning is best. Around Thanksgiving, remove all leaves and debris from the ground around the base of the rose plant; this will help prevent the spread of some rose diseases.
When the night temperatures drop below freezing for several days it’s time to mound soil over the rose crown. The soil should be eight to ten inches deep. Bring soil in from other parts of the garden to avoid disturbing the roots of the rose plant being covered. If soil is not an option, use mulch heavily around the base of the rose. Use pine needles or boughs, leaves, seasoned manure or shredded newspaper. Mulching roses is very important because it helps retain warmth and moisture. Rose collars are widely available at local garden shops or cages can be built from wire, to hold the mulch around the base of the rose. Mulch should be removed gradually in the spring after the danger of hard frost has passed. Climbing roses can benefit from being completely covered with burlap during the winter to prevent desiccation from wind.
It is time to clean up. If fruit trees are present make sure all fallen, rotted pieces are collected from the ground and properly disposed of. All plants where broken branches are present should be pruned at this time. Depending on personal preferences tidy up perennial plants making sure they have the proper depth of mulch applied to maintain winter health. It is important to remove fall tree leaves from the lawn. Leaves and debris left on grass through the winter can cause gray snow mold. This mold can thin out, smother and cause critical damage to lawns.
Spending time tending to a few of these garden chores will help prevent winter kill and promote a healthy plant lifecycle. Over the next several months remember winter watering. Applying water monthly to lawns, trees, and perennials is good practice. Irrigate when the temperature is above 40°F and early in the day so it will have time to soak in before nighttime freezing. Don’t forget to disconnect the hose from the spigot!
Thanksgiving Day is a time to reflect and be thankful for all that God has given us. The food we eat, the air we breathe, the special people in our lives that bring us joy. “See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men. Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1 Thessalonians 5: 15-18)
(Kerry Peetz is a master gardener and member of Sacred Heart Parish in Colorado Springs.)