With our first frost this year, also comes our first freeze here in Northeast Kansas. Normally there are a few weeks in between these events. Being a maintenance foreman gets me excited in the fall for the first hard freeze. A killing freeze that knocks down annuals, kills the tops of perennials and allows for more rapid leaf drop is exciting to me. However, from a homeowners standpoint, I have to remember all the different fall tasks that need done before the ground freezes and even before the temperatures are freezing. Here is a list of my fall chores.
Drain those hoses! This past summer was a doozy for both drought and heat. I used over 300 feet of garden hose around my yard to water new and drought-intolerant plants. Now I have to drain the hoses and roll them up for winter storage. I like to put mine in a garden shed for the winter, to keep them high and dry.
Wrap your young trees Young and newly planted trees may suffer from sunscald in the winter. In the winter, the sun is at a lower angle and can literally sunburn the unprotected bark of young trees. I like to use a paper bark product or plastic tube around my trees. I also wrap my customers trees. This wrap is removed in spring during our spring cleanups. This especially needs to be done on maples, willow, and any young tree that the bark has not toughened and split on.
Plant bulbs Bulb planting time is best done from September to November while the ground is above 40 degrees F. The bulbs will root in resulting in good floral displays in the spring. Be sure to plant bulbs to the correct depth for proper flowering.
Clean up vegetable gardens Once the tomatoes and other vegetables begin looking sad and wilty, it is time to clean up those bed and get ready for next year. If plants were healthy, they can be put into the compost pile. However, many plants, like tomatoes, potatoes, and okra may have had diseases or be too woody to break down and should be put into a pile fore burning. Cages and wire supports should be cleaned and stacked outside.
Clean and put away tools Garden tools such as rakes, hoes, shovels, etc, should be cleaned free of mud or soil. You can do this with a tough wire brush and water. Once clean, spray with W,D-40 or a protectant oil to keep from rusting. You can store them upright in a garage or garden shed, or stick shovels and hoes into a bucket of sand to keep them clean and sharp.
Cover those ponds! For those of you with water gardens, cut back foliage plants, remove annuals from around the edge, clean leaves from the surface, and cover ponds with leaf nets. For smaller bubblers and fountains, it is not necessary to remove the pump, but you may want to anyways. Drain the basins to prevent ice buildup that can crack fountains. If you do choose to leave the fountain running all winter, add a small pond heater to keep ice from the pump while it is running.
Clean out containers After a freeze, tropicals and annuals will die and wilt down quickly. Remove these plants from containers and landscape beds quickly to prevent rot and decay from freeze/thaw cycles. Containers can be covered for winter protection or used for decoration with greenery and berries for a holiday cheer-up.
Dig your potatoes and sweet potatoes If you have not done so already, dig your root vegetables. Sweet potatoes and potatoes should be dug before the ground freezes to prevent rot. Lay both out on screens in a dry, shady spot such as under a carport or in a garage to cure and dry. After a week or 2, clean the cured roots with a soft brush to remove soil and store in a cool, dry place such as a semi-heated garage, or a basement pantry. One of my co-workers grew a whopping 400 pounds of sweet potatoes from 18 plants put in in May and even had some roots as big as 10 pounds!