COMPLEAT HOME GARDENER: It’s time to tackle the autumn to-do list

The third week of October is the time to check off the autumn garden chores from your to-do list. Cool, autumn days may entice one to sit by the fire and watch football, but the more field goals you can accomplish this month the better yardage you’ll score in the landscape; with great defense now you’ll have less offensive work to do during the busy spring season.

There is another reason to get outdoors and get active this month. The last rays of the autumn sunshine is a way to store up vitamin D for the long gray winter ahead. Raking leaves, stacking wood, digging perennials and generally cleaning up your outdoor space is a productive way to use your muscles, get your circulation going and celebrate the change of seasons by getting up close and personal with changing foliage colors, ripening fruits and the seed pods, gourds and grasses of fall.

Top Ten Autumn Chores:

Fall into a more beautiful spring by doing these now

1. Fertilize the lawn

Fall is the most important time to use a slow-release or fall and winter lawn food in western Washington. Apply in fall so the winter rains can wash the nutrients down to the grass roots for an early start of weed-defying grass growth in the spring.

2. Dig and divide crowded perennials

Daylilies, iris, astilbe, crocosmia, sedums and asters all bloom better when given more room.

3. Cut back ugly plants

You can gather those limp and yellow hosta leaves, trim back the stems of brown lilies, shear lady’s mantle and uproot the overgrown or frostbitten annuals and bedding plants. Add your gleanings to the compost pile and you’ll be helping to discourage slugs.

4. Buy and plant more bulbs

Look for bargains on tulips, daffodils, crocus and the more unusual minor or small bulbs now.

5. Harvest the green tomatoes, green beans, zucchini and whatever edibles you find

Now is the time to make a harvest soup from the last of the veggies.

6. Protect your tender dahlias, cannas and bananas and overwinter fuchsias

You can cut the tops off of these tender bulbs now but then you need to cover them with a waterproof topping of sword fern fronds or oil cloth or dig and store the underground tubers in a frost-free location.

Bring tender fuchsia baskets into a frost-free basement, garage or garden shed. Cut back the dangling branches to 6-inch stumps. Let the cold and dark days send them into dormancy.

7. Transplant trees, shrubs and perennials

The cool weather and damp soil means moving trees, shrubs, roses and perennials is especially easy this month. Dig in.

8. Pull the weeds

Perennial weeds are ones that survive the winter and come back larger in the spring. Pulling the weeds now means you’ll save yourself millions of weed seeds later.

9. Add lime to your lawn

Our soil is naturally acidic due to heavy rainfall. Every lawn in western Washington will appreciate an application of dolomite or calcium lime. This also helps control the moss that thrives in acidic soils.

10. Celebrate the season

Weather it’s a pumpkin on the front porch, some gourds on the mantle or a few dried seed pods stuck into a bud vase, the autumn season is your chance to find beauty in the aging of the garden.

• • •

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.

For more gardening information, she can be reached at her Web site,

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