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Preparing landscape for spring

November 4, 2020

By Dennis Patton

While 2020 might have been a disaster in many ways, the summer weather in Kansas City was actually pretty good.

Spring rains brought lush growth. Summer was not overly hot and dry, and fall was pleasant. As the 2020 growing season winds down, here are a few chores that might help you take your mind off the worries of the world and get the landscape ready for spring.

Lawn care

November is an excellent time to apply one last application of fertilizer on the lawn. November’s application works underground, building strong roots and crowns. Nutrients are converted into stored food needed for spring growth.

Come spring, as the grass wakes up from its winter slumber, it uses up this stored food. Results are seen in several ways, most noticeable is an early spring green-up.

Lawns fertilized in November show signs of life two to three weeks ahead of those not fertilized. This green-up takes place without top growth, meaning a green lawn with less mowing.

Spring applications give a green response, but also more top growth and mowing. It depletes the food reserves needed to battle summer conditions.

The November application needs to include a high nitrogen source of fertilizer with little or no phosphorus and potassium. Be sure to sweep any fertilizer pellets that land on hard surfaces back in the lawn. This saves the water quality of our local streams and ponds.

Vegetable gardens

It was a record year in 2020 for vegetable gardening. Last spring, seeds and tomato transplants were in short supply. When there is a downturn in the economy, we return to our agrarian roots. We find comfort in growing our own food.

After the first frost hits, garden cleanup begins. Fall cleanup helps reduce problems next year. Remove dead plants and weeds. Dead plants harbor insects and diseases. In the fall, weeds are full of seeds lying in wait to wreak havoc on our efforts next year.

Once cleaned, turn your attention to soil preparation. Tilling the soil in the fall will give you a head start come spring. Soil conditions can be wet in spring, while fall tends to be drier. Rough till just enough to break and loosen the upper 6 to 8 inches of soil. Winter freezing and thawing will breakdown any large clods. Come spring, simply rake the garden and you are ready to plant.

Fall is also a great time to take a soil test making necessary adjustments for better growth.

Local soils tend to be high in pH. High pH requires applications of sulfur to lower the pH for the best growing conditions. Never apply lime to local soils as it raises pH and is seldom needed. Local soils are high in clay, making them difficult to dig and plant. Organic matter or compost can be worked in improving the quality of the soil. Add a good 2 to 4 inches into the upper 6 inches of soil for best results.

Landscape beds

Trees and shrubs require little care headed into winter. The main concern is the effects of a dry winter. Plants that become stressed from lack of moisture, especially evergreens, suffer more during a long cold winter. If they are currently dry, go ahead and water evergreens heading into winter. Those planted in the last 3 to 5 years are at greatest risk as their root system is limited.

The ideal way to water young trees and shrubs is by turning the hose on a slow trickle and letting it run for 5 to 10 minutes in 3 or 4 locations around the root system. This slow trickle moves down deep into the soil, hydrating the root ball.

After leaf drop, tree and shrub fertilizer applications can be made. While the air may be crisp, soil temperatures are warm, and roots are growing. Fertilizing in fall gets a jump on spring as the nutrients and energy is stored for spring growth.

Young trees, wishing to be bigger faster, should be fertilized. Mature trees rarely need additional fertilization. This applies to shrubs as well. Most shrubs quickly outgrow the area resulting in more pruning. Why feed a plant to grow larger when it is already too big?

Keep this fact in mind – fertilization does not make an unhealthy plant healthy. In fact, just the opposite occurs as pushing growth in an ailing plant only compounds the problems. Just like us, when we are sick, we lose our appetite.

The last tip for fall is to enjoy it. Take time to relax and soak in the beauty of nature around you. All of us have experienced our highs and lows in 2020. Whether we like to garden or not, improving our little corner of the world can help us all feel better.

Here is to a much improved 2021!

Dennis Patton is horticulture agent at the Johnson County K-State Research and Extension Office.