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Getting our trees, and houseplants ready for fall time

In the Garden

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Courtesy Lance Ellis,

The days are growing shorter, shadows grow longer, and our night time temperatures are starting to drop.

As Fall approaches, trees prepare for dormancy and stop focusing on branch and tree top development, but rather taking up water and nutrients in preparation for next Spring. To properly prepare your trees for the Fall and winter, they need watered even after they have gone dormant for the winter.

Evergreens especially need to be watered in the Fall as they will continue to pull up water through their roots in the winter.

If you are going to apply a tree fertilizer, wait until your deciduous trees have gone dormant or are pretty much on their way to dormancy to apply a fertilizer, but before the ground has frozen. If you fertilize right now, before deciduous trees go dormant, they can react by putting on new green growth which will not be cold hardy to freezing temperatures and will die off.

After deciduous trees have started to go dormant in the Fall, their roots are still taking up moisture and some nutrients for a little while, and a Fall fertilizer application can give them an extra energy boost for good spring growth the following year.

Spring fertilizer applications are better for deciduous trees. Regarding evergreen trees, a fall application works very well, as these trees technically don’t go dormant, but rather just slow down their internal water and food systems. This enables them to absorb and store nutrients for a few more months, until we get into November and the temperatures really start to drop.

Many people ask which type of fertilizer is best for landscape trees at this time of year, and as a general rule, its best to find an all-purpose fertilizer mix that is recommended for landscape trees. Many times these fertilizers have numbers that are relatively equal on the label, such as 10-10-10. Also its best to choose a granular fertilizer for landscape trees, over other fertilizer types such as a liquids, fertilizer spikes, or injections. Spread the granular fertilizer according to label directions, in the area around the tree where most of the feeder roots are. Feeder roots are found primarily where the ends of the branches reach out to. Avoid over-applying fertilizer near the base of the tree, it is a waste and can become toxic if too much is applied.

Courtesy Lance Ellis,

Most of the time we think about our landscapes and getting them ready for cold weather, but our houseplants also need some attention. As the day length shortens, the amount of sun many houseplants receive will also decrease, which can make them look very sickly and weak.

To keep your houseplants as healthy as possible during the fall and winter, keep them away from cold drafts like open doors, cold windows, and drying heat sources such as heat vents or radiators. These temperature extremes are hard on houseplants.

In general, houseplants require less frequent watering during the winter months than in spring and summer. Actively growing plants need more water than those at rest during the winter months.

The type of indoor houseplant species also affects watering frequency. Ferns prefer an evenly moist soil and should be watered relatively frequently. Cacti and succulents, on the other hand, should not be watered until the potting soil is almost completely dry. The majority of houseplants fall between these two groups. Most houseplants should be watered when the soil is barely moist or almost dry to the touch. When watering houseplants, water them thoroughly. Water should freely drain out of the bottoms of the pots.

If the excess water drains into a saucer, discard the water and replace the saucer beneath the pot to prevent insects from using it as a place to live and reproduce. Houseplants need to be fertilized periodically when actively growing in the spring and summer.

Fertilization is generally not necessary during the winter months because most plants are growing very little. Indoor gardeners can begin to fertilize houseplants in March or April as growing conditions improve and the plants resume growth. Houseplant fertilizers are available in numerous forms: liquids, water soluble powders, tablets, spikes, etc.

Regardless of the fertilizer type, carefully read and follow label directions. Partial information regarding houseplants is courtesy of the University of Nebraska Extension.

For further information about gardening and house plants please contact Lance Ellis at (208) 624-3102.