Article by Casey Cisneros
Courtesy of Renew Magazine
A couple years ago I rode a charter bus past Weld County homes and farms that had been reseeded with Colorado native grasses, which require less water than many other grasses. The tour guide on that cloudless 95-degree August day was Don Hijar, the owner of Pawnee Butte Seed. Along the way, Don explained the difficult and often frustrating task of establishing grass without supplemental water. The Front Range gets an annual average of 13 inches of precipitation, but Don said he couldn’t remember a single year with exactly 13 inches of precipitation. His observation stuck with me because everything about our Colorado climate is like the precipitation — there is rarely an average year and nothing is predictable. Every new season brings either feast or famine, droughts or floods, scorching hot summers or early September winters. And when it comes to fall garden preparation, there are certain important considerations that relate to the unpredictable seasons.
Dave Graham, president of Phase One Landscaping in Denver, tries to anticipate the special seasonal needs of his clients’ gardens when fall rolls around each year. “The main challenge is that we never really know when fall is here, or when winter has arrived,” explains Graham. “Many trees will lose their leaves, while others are holding on.” No one with a garden wants to throw the towel in too early, but putting off fall yard work until the last minute can also be frustrating. Some even wait until the following spring, but doing so creates lost opportunities and possibly even some consequences for the home landscape. “Fall preparation is important for the health of the plant material, to avoid spring diseases, and provide a tidy look to your site and garden for the winter,” says Graham. Many landscaping companies, such as Phase One, are happy to help their clients with the end-of-season cleanup and prep work. However, for homeowners who find solace and enjoyment working in their yards, Graham has a list of tasks that will ensure a healthy, robust lawn and garden the following year. One thing that most people have been pre-conditioned to do in the fall is rake up the fallen leaves. Not only does this keep the lawn looking clean and kempt, but it also takes away a place for pests and plant diseases to hibernate over the winter. The soil must be turned over in vegetable gardens at the end of the season. This will help remaining organic matter break down over the winter, enriching the soil with nitrogen and other organic nutrients. In native sod lawns, it is important to plant your warm season grass seed, such as blue granma or buffalo grass, in the late fall so that it can benefit from the snow cover and early spring precipitation. The lawn should also have a “winterizer” fertilizer applied and be aerated. Wrapping the trunks of young ornamental trees will prevent sunscald. This is necessary for deciduous trees that have a thin layer of bark, such as locusts, fruit trees and ashes. Also taper down the use of fertilizers on trees and shrubs in the fall so that they can go into dormancy. Lay down mulch around roses and other tender perennial plants that have to be dug up and moved to a frost-protected location. Some benefits of fall garden preparation can be more immediate. Graham emphasized that even with early freezes, the gardening season doesn’t have to end. “These conditions create a situation where if we protect our annuals and irrigation systems against overnight freezes, we can enjoy a very extended summer season,” said Graham. If the cold, wet unpredictable spring of 2010 is any indicator of the fall that will ensue, Graham and other landscaping pros will be in great demand.
Photo Credit: Phase One Landscapes