JoAnne Skelly: Don’t procrastinate on autumn gardening

I would like to think I’m on task for completing necessary fall gardening activities. In all honesty, I’m probably not. I tend to procrastinate until the window for getting jobs done is closed. Last year I forgot all about fall lawn fertilization, so our lawn wasn’t as healthy as it should have been this spring. I also forgot to plant new bulbs before the winter freezes. I didn’t plant any late summer crops. We did prune last year, but fortunately the time frame for pruning is fairly forgiving.

This year, I have accomplished a few projects. I fertilized half of our lawns. I mainly fertilize for all the trees growing in or around the lawns. Roots still grow in winter and this extra root development allows a tree or other plant to burst into healthy growth come spring. I used a 21-0-0 fertilizer I had on hand, but I prefer a 16-16-16 for fall fertilizing. The first number of the analysis is nitrogen, while the second is phosphorus and the third is potassium. Phosphorus and potassium will improve root growth and allow plants to store energy for winter and early spring.

I planted kale, chard, collards and kohlrabi in early September, mostly in pots with cages to prevent ground squirrel pillage. I harvested the first greens today, reaping whatever the earwigs and grasshoppers left me! I’m hoping the plants will stay productive at least through November.

We’ve been pruning deciduous trees for weeks. My friend Will pruned the ash trees, one of the apples and the crabapples. He and my husband removed a dead birch and two ash trees that were superfluous, and we got some nice firewood. We’ve been waiting to prune the evergreen trees until after a couple of hard freezes. Pruning after a hard freeze reduces the potential for borer infestation. Since we have many pines and spruces, this is a time-consuming job. I try to time evergreen pruning so I can keep the cut branches for holiday decorating.

My friend Peg gave me a large bag of hyacinth bulbs, so I need to get those in the ground soon. Another friend Jane brought me a bag of ranunculus bulbs. I’m not sure if those will tolerate the winter lows in Washoe Valley, although Sharon, a longtime friend and neighbor used to plant them successfully.

I should go work in the yard, but maybe I’ll go hiking instead…

JoAnne Skelly is associate professor and Extension educator emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Email


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