Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Garden Tasks To Do, and NOT Do, This Fall

Columbus Day, Halloween, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas. The busy holiday season awaits. OK, maybe you aren't going to get dressed up as the "Santa Maria" and march down Main Street on October 8, but there are still enough other tasks to accomplish this time of year to dissuade you from the garden. The good news: here are some yard chores you don't have to tackle this time of year.

Don't deadhead your roses. Many Northern California rosarians are now advising rose growers to let those fading October flowers remain on the plant. This will force the rose bush to form hips, which helps the plant slow down in preparation for the January pruning season. Because cold winters are not a certainty here, roses have problems entering complete dormancy in our area. Not pruning roses now tells the plant, "Time to take a nap!"

Don't prune your shade trees until the last leaf has fallen. Then, it will be easier to gaze up into the canopy of the tree to decide which branches need to be trimmed or removed. Good reasons for pruning trees include removing or cutting back branches that are rubbing each other or the house. Low branches that impede foot traffic or suckers emanating from the base can be removed at that time, too. If you think you won't remember the dead branches that will need to be removed when all the leaves are gone, go ahead and mark those branches now with ribbon or green tree tape.

Don't Prune Citrus Trees. Lance Walheim, author of the books "Citrus" and "All About Citrus & Subtropical Fruits", says early fall is the one season to avoid taking a saw to your orange, lemon, mandarin and other citrus trees. The soil is still warm, which will push out new growth wherever you made a pruning cut. And that new growth will be more susceptible to frost damage during the late fall and winter.

Don't Prune Apricot and Cherry Trees. Apricots and cherries are susceptible to Eutypa dieback, a disease which kills branches. Infection occurs on wounds made during wet weather. You need six weeks of dry weather after pruning. Prune these trees after harvest in late spring or early summer.


And now, for you masochists, some autumn garden tasks to add to that growing list on the side of the refrigerator.

• Clean up the summer vegetable garden. Many garden pests overwinter in fallen fruit and twigs, too.

• After you've cleared out the dying summer vegetables, prepare for next year's garden by checking the soil pH. Test kits are available at just about every nursery.

•  Tomato hornworms are going into hibernation in the soil beneath your tomato plants. Dig down about four inches and discard their cocoons, which resemble two inch-long, reddish footballs.

• Feed your bare garden soil during the winter with a cover crop of clover, fava beans or vetch. This will add nitrogen for next year. 

Chinese Pistache
 • This is a great time for planting new trees and shrubs, especially ones with outstanding fall foliage for California. Good specimens include Japanese maples, Chinese pistache, tupelo, red oak and scarlet oak.
• Vegetables to plant from seed now include radish, spinach, fava beans, carrots, swiss chard, corn salad, leaf lettuce, onions and peas.

•  Despite the cooler temperatures, your lawn and garden still need about an inch of water a week. Unless the rains come, keep your automatic sprinklers operating. How much water is an inch? Here’s how to measure.

•  Cool season lawns, such as the popular fescue blends, are putting on a spurt of growth now. Mow often so that you are never removing more than a third of the total height of the grass blade.

 • Dethatch, aerate and overseed bermuda grass lawns with rye grass to keep it green all winter. At a loss of how to start? Here’s how.

•  This is a good time to plant ground covers such as low growing manzanitas, verbena and carpet bugle. This will give their root systems a chance to get established for their burst of spring growth.

• Scatter and plant tulip and daffodil bulbs outdoors for a more natural look.

• Add some indoor color for the upcoming holiday seasons by planting bulbs in containers. Your favorite local nursery has a good supply right now.

• Feed and protect rhododendron and azalea roots during the winter by adding two or three inches of mulch around those plants. More on the benefits of mulch.

• Available now at nurseries: colorful winter blooming annuals such as violas, calendulas, stock, Iceland poppies and snapdragons.

 • Temperatures dipping down below freezing can occur in many of the interior areas of Northern and Central California in early November. Prepare for that possibility by moving frost-sensitive potted plants indoors or against a west or south-facing wall.


Row covers, hot caps, and water-filled containers surrounding young vegetable seedlings offer these plants a warmer nighttime environment.


• Prepare for the rainy season by knocking down watering basins around trees.


  1. You recommended the planting of peas twice. Is this because you like peas?

  2. I like peas. But not THAT much. Duplication fixed, along with adding a few other veggies that can be planted from seed during Oct. & Nov. Thank you for your attention to detail.

  3. I plant my garlic during the first week of October and harvest in May. Is there a better timetable?

  4. Planting garlic here in the Sacramento/San Joaquin Valleys during the fall months is excellent. It is usually ready for harvesting when 3 or 4 of the 7 leaves have turned brown. Here in the Sacramento area, that is usually June or July.