JoAnne Skelly: Prepare your garden for first frost

The summer light is softening and fall is in the air. The days are shorter and the night temperatures are dropping. Soon, whether we like it or not, we will have frost. For much of this area, mid-September brings the first killing freeze, although colder outlying areas may have already had a freeze, and warmer locations may not freeze until the end of September.

However, we often have a lovely October, extending our growing season, if we protect some of the less cold hardy plants with covers on those freezing nights. Wise gardeners learn to monitor the weather closely and keep blankets and other cold protection items readily available.

As September winds down, it is time to slowly reduce the amount of water we apply to trees and shrubs. They need to be hardened off to be ready for the upcoming cold weather. You don’t want new growth developing now or the low temperatures will damage it. Freeze-damaged new growth weakens trees and shrubs inviting in diseases such as rose canker. Another way to avoid encouraging new growth is to wait until after a hard freeze to fertilize trees and shrubs.

Fall is the best time to plant, whether it is new trees, shrubs or perennial flowers. The soil is warm and the air is cool so new roots can grow quickly without heat stress. Roots grow through most of the winter, because the soils rarely freeze deeply. When spring arrives, your plants are well established and take off with new growth, surpassing spring-planted ones.

Tonight’s free “Grow Your Own” class, Selecting the Right Plants, is perfect if you want to know more about plants for the area. The Thursday class is Keeping Your Lawn Green and Healthy. The Sept. 23 class is Managing Pests in Your Landscape. All run from 6 to 8 p.m. at 2621 Northgate Lane, Suite 12. Contact Teri at 775-887-2252 or to reserve your seat. All classes are taught by University of Nevada Cooperative Extension specialists.

Although the growing season will soon be shutting down, I look forward to cool autumn days to do my outdoor gardening chores, such as turning the compost pile, raking leaves and putting the flowerbeds to rest. I actually like to rake leaves; it’s the picking up of the piles I don’t care for!

JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and may be reached at or 887-2252.


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