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  • Waterwise Gardening | David Salman

Mid-Fall Gardening To-Do List

These next six weeks before Thanksgiving will be the end of this year's gardening season. Now is your last chance for essential tasks like fertilizing and watering. So be sure to deep irrigate your landscape and spread soil-building fertilizer like Yum Yum Mix. Time spent this month in the garden will pay off next spring with healthier, more robust plants.

1. Watering

– Most parts of northern NM have been very dry. The monsoons were generally anemic this past summer, so the soil is dry down deep. Therefore, it's important to deep water trees, shrubs, vines, and perennials that have been planted this season or last year a couple of times in November. Make sure the soil is nicely moist as we head into December.

– Winter watering is essential for all new perennials, shrubs, and trees planted this past growing season. If there is scant snow or rain over the winter and early spring months, water when day temperatures are above 45⁰ F, which typically starts at the beginning of February. Continue once every 3 to 4 weeks through mid-April.

After you've given your landscape a last deep watering, turn off the water to your irrigation system. Then drain the solenoids in your valve box and the back-flow preventor so they don't freeze and crack over the winter. And set your irrigation timer to the "off position".

2. Fertilizing (Feeding the Soil)

For a healthy, resilient garden and landscape, healthy living soil is essential; so when we fertilizer, use organic and natural fertilizers like Yum Yum Mix and good quality composts to “feed the soil”. The web of life depends on the soil’s ability to break down fallen leaves and other organic materials and recycle the nutrients into the soil. This is accomplished by the incredible diversity of microbes, fungi, and earthworms that live in the soil. After the first hard frost is a good time to mix up a wheelbarrow of high-quality compost and Yum Yum Mix and top dress your flower beds, shrubs, and younger trees and lawn. Just scatter the compost/Yum Yum Mix over the top of the soil and scratch it in lightly. Then set a sprinkler and water it in.

If you haven't treated your plants with beneficial mycorrhizal fungi, it's easy to add the granules to the Yum Yum Mix and compost mixture. The spores will germinate over the winter months and make your garden and landscape plants healthier, more resilient, and more water-efficient. The Plant Success brand is available from Purchase the granular formulation.

3. Mulching Mulching is an essential tool for conserving precious soil moisture, building the soil's humus content, and keeping the soil cold in the spring so plants don't wake up and bloom too early. I like to mulch after I've fertilized to cover the soil and the organic fertilizers so to help facilitate the organisms in the soil to break down the fertilizer and make it available to the waking plants in spring.

Older fruit trees and other early blooming flowering trees and shrubs greatly benefited by having the ground well mulched out to the drip line of the tree to protect them from prematurely warm early spring temperatures.

– For Xeric and Native Plants use a 1" to 2” thick layer of pine needles, crushed pecan shells or small crushed gravel (3/8 to 1/2" diameter).

– For Plants that Like more moisture and richer soil like fruit trees, flowering shrubs, and evergreens apply a 2” thick layer of composted bark, shredded bark and wood, shredded leaves, and coarse textured composts like Soil Mender BTE cotton burr compost. Use clean wheat or barley straw for your fall and winter vegetable beds.

4. Protect Plants from Feeding Animals

–Treat for gophers: Gophers can be tremendously damaging to your garden plants, especially young trees and fruit trees as well as thick-rooted succulents (Yucca and Agave) and perennials, by eating the roots. They are active now and can be spotted by looking for freshly mounded soil around your plants and trees. Use a gopher repellent like Chase Mole and Gopher Med (a natural emulsified castor oil product). Spread the granules over the top of the soil and water in thoroughly. Re-apply in the spring.

–Protect young trees and shrubs from rabbits: Rabbits will often eat the bark at the base of young woody plants over the winter, so use corrugated paper tree wrap around the bottom 3 ft. of the tree now and remove in April. Vulnerable shrubs can be encircled with chicken wire.

–Bothered by deer? Deer feed on woody stems over the winter and spring months. So use a deer repellent spray like Bobbex, on trees, shrubs and evergreens now. And re-apply in early spring. Read more...

5. Garden Clean Up Enjoy the beauty of the fall and winter garden provided by dormant plants and grasses. In your flower beds and landscape plantings, let the perennials and ornamental grasses stand over the winter unless the plants were diseased with powdery mildew on the foliage, In which case, these can be cut back. ​​Letting plants stand over the winter improves cold hardiness of plants like Hummingbird Mint (Agastache), Hummingbird Trumpet (Zauschneria), and native Sages (Salvia).

Leaving plants untrimmed also helps protect beneficial insects and pollinator populations. The eggs and cocoons/pupae of beneficial insects, butterflies, and moths are often attached to the dormant stems of your garden plants so let them stay and hatch next spring. Clean up in mid-spring after a few weeks of warmer weather when you see the first butterflies or other winged insects. Wait to prune trees and shrubs until late winter/early spring.

November is the final month to plant your spring-blooming bulbs. Bulbs are a bargain and a great way to wake up your garden in spring, but plant them where they will get some supplemental irrigation. Common bulbs like tulips, daffodils, grape hyacinths, and others need supplemental irrigation in the spring (if the soil is dry) to bloom well, so plant them in irrigated beds. My favorite bulbs are perennial varieties that come back year after year and multiply in numbers (naturalize). These include - Crocus- Muscari (Grape hyacinths) - Narcissus (daffodils, which are gopher proof), - Tulipa (tulips); especially 'Lilac Wonder', Tulipa tarda and Gregiii and Kaufmaniana types, and Allium (ornamental onions) which are also highly resistant to gophers. Where gophers are active, mix granules of Chase Mole and Gopher Med into the backfill soil. Or soak the bulbs in Bobbex small animal repellent for a few hours, then let dry prior to planting.

7. Planting Shrubs, Trees and Evergreens

Most cold hardy plants benefit from fall planting. Fall-planted trees and shrubs have extra time to establish their roots before winter and will bloom more robustly and grow more quickly next summer than spring transplants. Finish planting woody plants by late November.

8. Raking Leaves Avoid mulching with whole leaves as they will mat down and keep moisture and oxygen from reaching down into the soil. If possible, rent or buy a shredder that will grind up your leaves into coarse pieces. Or you can run your lawn mower over low piles of leaves. Then take them out of the mower bag to use as mulch. Coarsely ground-up leaves are a superb mulch and a great soil builder. Keep your leaves and pine needles as they are a valuable resource for soil building and mulching.

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