Catherine W. Idzerda" />

Preparing for winter

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Monday, October 19, 2009
— After the first frost, most people stop thinking “garden” and start thinking “snow blower.”

While it’s never too early to start thinking about our friend the snow blower, it’s definitely too early to stop thinking about the garden.

We asked Mike Maddox, UW Extension and Rotary Botanical Gardens horticulture educator, to outline our fall lawn and garden chores.


“Turfgrass roots are actively growing until the ground freezes,” Maddox said. “Nutrients applied now will be absorbed now and held in the crown of the plant and will be ready to use next spring.”

Be sure to use the right tool for the job. Fertilizer packages have three numbers listed on them that are referred to as “N”, “P” and “K” or nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium.

Nitrogen is for green growth; phosphorous is for roots and flowers, and potassium is for overall plant health.

“A winterizer—high N, low P, high K—or a maintenance blend with high N, low P and low K is recommended.”

In addition, the UW Extension recommends that fall fertilizer applications should be made when the average daily temperature drops to 50 degrees.

Remember that if you leave your lawn clipping on your lawn you’ll need less fertilizer per square foot.

Use only what you need. Excess fertilizer washes into the storm sewers and then out into the river.

For more information about fall turf grass care and protecting your local waterways, go to

Deciduous trees and shrubs

“I’m of the school of thought that if you fertilize your grass properly, your trees don’t need anything special in the way of fertilizer,” Maddox said.

Fertilizer in the early fall also might prompt growth that will be killed when the weather turns colder. Any damage on a tree or shrub is another opening for disease and insects.

Experts agree that most trees and shrubs planted on reasonably healthy soil don’t need fertilizing.


Yes, they’re evergreen, but they won’t be if they don’t get enough to drink.

“It never hurts to give evergreens extra water so they don’t dry out over the winter,” Maddox said.


The stores are full of bulbs that promise a beautiful spring.

“Bulbs can be planted up until the ground freezes,” Maddox said.

Miloganite, the fertilizer made from Milwaukee sewage leftovers, can help deter digging squirrels and other creatures. Miloganite is available at locally owned shops including K&W Greenery, Harris Ace on Milwaukee and River streets, Farm & Fleet, and other independent garden centers.

Annuals, perennials and flowers

Clean up vegetable gardens and annual flowerbeds. Harvest all usable vegetables and annual flowers. Leftover debris can be tilled into soil to decay and enrich the soil or it can be placed into the compost pile. Clean up weeds as they can harbor diseases and insects. Add compost and other organic material to enrich the soil. Mulch beds to prevent erosion during winter.

If you’d like to use less pesticide next summer, clean up your garden beds now.

Integrated pest management is the practice of reducing pest damage and chemical use through careful management of the garden environment.

One of the important parts of integrated pest management is to remove debris that might harbor pests over the winter.

Then, compost or mulch and mix into garden beds disease-free annual flowers and vegetable debris. Remember, if your tomato plants had late blight, it’s important to dispose of them in the trash—not in the compost pile.

Perennials can be cut back now or in early spring.

“If you do leave anything up, we say it’s for ‘winter interest,’” Maddox joked.

Fall leaves

Janesville’s fall leave pickup runs from Nov. 9 to 20.

Leaves also can be ground up with a mower and turned into the garden bed or spread around perennials as mulch.

Last updated: 11:42 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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