13 steps to a healthy Vail garden: Proper fall cleanup cultivates healthy spring gardens | VailDaily.com

13 steps to a healthy Vail garden: Proper fall cleanup cultivates healthy spring gardens

CSU Extension Master Gardeners
Special to the Daily
Chef David Gutowski pulls up the roots from a red romaine plant while harvesting and bedding down the plants for winter Friday at the Eagle-Vail Community Garden.
Justin Q. McCarty | Special to the Daily |

There is an undeniable nip of fall in the air, and to some, that nip signals the end of golf or, perhaps, hiking season, but to the gardener, it is a signal to prepare for spring.

Everything you do or don’t do in the fall will directly affect your spring garden. Pests and diseases reside in the soil and plant debris, so if you want your spring garden to have a healthy start, you need to put your fall garden to bed properly. These 13 simple steps will get you there.

Step 1: Cut back and protect perennials.

Cut down perennials to within a couple of inches of the ground as they die back to tidy up the garden and to remove any pests and diseases, taking care to discard any diseased plant material. Divide overgrown clumps of perennials and replant them while the soil is still warm to improve the health and appearance of those perennials.

Step 2: Remove spent annuals and seasonal vegetables.

Annuals and most vegetables do not come back every year, so you should pull them up, roots and all.

Step 3: Remove weeds and leaf debris.

Rake and gather leaves not only in the garden and out from under shrubs, but also on the lawn. A thick layer of leaves acts like insulation and can encourage diseases such as snow molds. Use the leaves as mulch in your garden beds or compost them. Leaves are a great source of organic matter, something all soils in this area could use more of.

Step 4: Compost only healthy material.

Dispose of diseased plant material. If you are composting, make sure your pile reaches temperatures greater than 140 degrees to kill diseases and weed seed. To help your pile reach those temperatures, augment it with coffee grounds, beer mash or non-treated lawn clippings, and make sure to water and turn your pile frequently. Composting is a great way to reduce waste in landfills, reduce the need for water and fertilizers and save you money.

Step 5: Get a soil test.

If you haven’t already done so, get a soil test to identify pH, organic matter and nutrient levels in your soil. For more information about soil testing, visit the Colorado State University Extension office in Eagle.

Step 6: Amend the soil.

Once you get your soil test results, you may need to adjust the pH (acidity or alkalinity). Add lime to raise the pH and sulfur to lower it. Most soils in Colorado are alkaline. Adding compost and other organic amendments in the fall allows them to break down and create healthy soil over winter.

Step 7: Add mulch.

Mulch perennial and shrub beds. This protects both plant roots and the soil and moderates the effects of extreme moisture and temperature changes during winter freezes and thaws.

Step 8: Protect trees and shrubs from pests and high-altitude sun.

Wrap the bark of newly planted trees to protect them from being scorched by the intense winter sun or damaged by small animals.

Step 9: Plant bulbs, trees and shrubs.

Plant spring flowering bulbs, such as daffodils and crocuses. Mulch bulb beds with evergreen boughs to protect the soil from heaving during the winter. The cool fall temperatures are a great time to plant new shrubs and trees.

Step 10: Sow flower seeds and grass seeds.

Sow wildflower and grass seeds when temperatures are below 40 degrees but before the ground freezes.

Step 11: Save seeds.

Collect and save seeds. Avoid getting them wet, and store them in an airtight container in a cool, dark place until you are ready to sow in the spring.

Step 12: Winterize containers, tools and garden furniture.

Clean and store garden furniture and outdoor planters. Clean and sharpen garden tools. Tools and other supplies last longer when they are properly cleaned, and it’s always nicer to start a new gardening season with supplies that are as anxious to get back into the dirt as you are.

Lucky 13: Make a plan to water trees and shrubs

Colorado’s winters can be very hard on trees and shrubs. If there is no snow cover and the temps are higher than 40 degrees, make sure to water trees and shrubs once a month during the winter months. The extra moisture will help prevent them from drying out in our harsh, drying winds and intense winter sun.

The CSU Extension Master Gardeners submitted this article. If you’d like see examples of fall garden cleanup in action or lend a hand, visit the White House Gardens at the Colorado State University Extension Office in Eagle at 441 Broadway Street. If you have gardening questions that you need answered, call the Extension Office at 970-328-8630 or visit http://www.ext.colostate.edu.