It’s the end of October and the grass is still green and the first frost of fall is barely past. Lawns and flowers looked better this fall than they did all summer. What a treat after enduring this year’s brown lawns and heat-parched gardens!

Late October through early November is the customary window of opportunity for putting the yard and garden to bed for another year. If Mother Nature provides amiable weather, fall work is pleasant.

The following is a checklist of end-of-season yard and garden tasks.

  • While lawn grass is green and actively growing, it’s better to maintain the recommended summer mowing height of 3 inches. The green growth feeds the grass’s root system, replenishing its strength after a stressful summer. As the grass enters dormancy, mowing height should be reduced to 2 inches in one or two mowings. The lower mowing height helps reduce snow mold and vole activity.
  • Cover tree trunks to prevent winter sunscald from damaging thin-barked trees. Especially vulnerable are fruit trees, maples, lindens and trees less than 5 years old. Garden centers sell tree-wrapping material, including the common white tubelike cylinders. Corrugated black drain tile sold at hardware and farm stores also works.

Smooth barked trees and those younger than 5 years old are best wrapped each fall. David Samson / The Forum
Smooth barked trees and those younger than 5 years old are best wrapped each fall. David Samson / The Forum

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  • Soil moisture has improved greatly since the summer drought, but younger trees, shrubs and evergreens would still benefit from a good soak before soil freezes in November.
  • The above-ground portions of most perennial flowers are best left intact over winter to catch insulating snow. Types that should be cut back to nearly ground level in fall include peony, hollyhock and other disease-prone types, and daylily, iris, hosta and others that become mushy or lie flat after frost.
  • Any trees, shrubs, bulbs or perennials that were bought but haven’t been planted should be installed quickly. All are better in the ground rather than overwintering in the garage or other locations. Mulch soil with 24 inches of straw, leaves or shredded bark to prevent soil from freezing as quickly, buying several weeks of establishment time.
  • Rake up fallen apple fruit and leaves to reduce next year’s insects and diseases.
  • Instead of raking shade tree leaves that have fallen onto the lawn, remove the lawnmower’s discharge chute and simply mow over them, mulching them into the turf.
  • Voles, the grayish brown tailless field mice, can ruin trees and shrubs as they gnaw bark, and damage lawns as they tunnel below snowcover. Repellents give mixed results. Besides natural predators, the most effective controls are traps baited with peanut butter or peanuts, or poisoned baits placed in lengths of PVC pipe to keep the baits away from humans or pets. Circle wire mesh hardware cloth with quarter-inch openings around tree trunks.
  • Rabbits are notorious for attacking certain shrub types during winter, such as roses, arborvitae, hydrangea, burning bush, raspberries and fruit trees. Fencing is the most reliable deterrent, but repellents like Liquid Fence and Plantskydd can be tried.
  • Add 12 to 24 inches of leaves, straw or shredded wood mulch over and around tender perennials, roses and strawberries after the soil has started to freeze in early to mid-November. This will keep plants comfortably frozen, but insulated from extreme cold.
  • Remove rhubarb stems and leaves each fall to reduce diseases because they become mushy during winter and can harbor disease. Asparagus tops should be left intact during winter and cut back in early spring.
  • Disconnect water hoses from outdoor spigots and drain watering wands and nozzles.
  • Move yard and garden liquid chemicals to a spot that won’t freeze. Because many exude objectionable odors once the original seal is broken, enclose the containers in tightly sealed plastic bags if moving the chemicals into a basement or other living space.
  • Incorporate leaves, straw, compost or other organic materials into the soil of gardens and flower beds.
  • High-quality potting mix in outdoor planters can be reused next spring. If a container is breakable, remove the soil to avoid cracking.

The above-ground parts of most perennials are best left intact during winter, such as these fall blooming asters. David Samson / The Forum
The above-ground parts of most perennials are best left intact during winter, such as these fall blooming asters. David Samson / The Forum

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at donald.kinzler@ndsu.edu.