We sometimes receive questions as to whether asparagus or rhubarb can be moved in the fall. Though these crops are traditionally transplanted in the spring (mid-March to mid-April), a fall move can be successful. Wait until the top has been browned by frost and then cut back to the ground.
Prepare the soil and fertilize as you would in the spring. See http://www.bookstore.ksre.ksu.edu/pubs/mf319.pdf for more detail on asparagus and http://www.bookstore.ksre.ksu.edu/pubs/ep99.pdf for more information on rhubarb.
Water well after planting to ensure good root/soil contact. Mulching would be helpful on the rhubarb to prevent the plant from heaving out of the soil during the winter but asparagus requires no such treatment as it is planted much deeper. (Ward Upham)’
Cold nights are increasing in frequency now that we are into October. If you have tomatoes, you may have some that are approaching maturity. Leave them on the vine until mature or until a frost is forecast. Tomatoes will ripen off the vine but must have reached a certain phase of maturity called the ‘mature green stage.’ Look for full-sized tomatoes with a white, star-shaped zone on the bottom end of the green fruit.
When harvesting fruit before a frost, separate tomatoes into three groups for storage: those that are mostly red, those that are just starting to turn, and those that are still green. Discard tomatoes with defects such as rots or breaks in the skin. Place the tomatoes on cardboard trays or cartons but use layers of newspaper to separate fruit if stacked. Occasionally a tomato may start to rot and leak juice. The newspaper will keep the juice from contacting nearby or underlying fruit. Store groups of tomatoes at as close to 55 degrees as possible until needed. (Ward Upham)
Peppers are able to be stored fresh much longer than tomatoes. They can usually keep in a crisper drawer of a refrigerator for several weeks if kept moist but not wet. For longer storage, freezing works well. Though mushy when thawed, the flavor still comes through in cooked foods. Try dicing them into small pieces and then freezing on a cookie sheet. The frozen pieces can then be poured into a plastic bag for later use. Measuring is much easier as the pieces are not frozen together in a clump. This methods works equally well for hot peppers but be sure to wear gloves when handling. (Ward Upham)
Sometimes you will hear people say to let the grass grow tall right before winter sets in. Their reasoning is that the extra foliage will insulate the crown of the plant from the extreme cold of winter. Although this may sound reasonable, in practice it probably does little, if anything, to increase winter hardiness. On the contrary, a canopy that is too high during the winter may lay over and become matted down, leading to an increased incidence of winter-diseases such as snow mold.
Turfgrass species vary genetically in their cold tolerance, with warm-season grasses such as bermudagrass, zoysiagrass and buffalograss being less cold tolerant than the cool-season types such as tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass. Given these differences, cold tolerance is improved by increasing the health of the plants going into the winter, and healthy plants are a result of a sound management program (fertilizing, watering and mowing) during the spring, summer and fall.
The lawn will benefit more from continuing to mow at the recommended height than from trying
to gain some insulation against winter cold by allowing it to grow tall.
Here is a list of the recommended mowing height ranges (in inches) for home lawns in Kansas:
Tall fescue 2.5 -3.5
Kentucky bluegrass 2-3
(Note: Mowing at heights below 1.5 inches requires a reel mower).
There may be some benefits gained by adjusting mowing heights WITHIN the recommended range at times. For example, it is a good practice to mow warm-season grasses at the higher end of recommended heights during late summer and early fall because this practice should help them store more carbohydrate reserves for the winter, and it may reduce the incidence of certain cool-weather diseases. But the rule to remember is to stay within the recommended height range for your species. (Ward Upham)
With all the concern about Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), many people may assume that any ash tree with problems is being attacked by EAB. However, EAB has only been confirmed in Atchison, Doniphan, Douglas, Jefferson, Johnson, Leavenworth, Shawnee & Wyandotte counties. One of the other problems we see with ash is Mycosphaerella Leafspot. Though this disease looks serious, it is not.
Mycosphaerella leaf spot causes small, brown spots that enlarge to become blotches and may result in early leaf drop. This disease can be severe enough to cause complete defoliation of the tree. However, defoliation this late in the growing season will not hurt the health of the tree. Therefore, because this disease appears sporadically and tree health is not harmed, we do not recommend treatment. Furthermore, treatment would have to be preventative and applied before the disease had infected the leaves. Applying a fungicide now would have no effect. (Ward Upham)
To maintain healthy soil and implement Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies, one must look at agriculture as a natural system. "Building Soils for Better Crops" states that understanding the characteristics of the natural system and promoting its strengths will create healthy and strong habitats both above and below ground. To achieve a successful and compatible ecosystem for your crops, "Building Soils for Better Crops" encourages growing healthy plants with durable defenses, reducing pest vigor, and promoting beneficial organisms as the three categories you want to implement on your farm. Most of the goals can be implemented before and during planting, so it is important to start thinking about them now as the growing season is coming to an end. Reducing plant stresses is the best way to promote natural defenses against the many forms (fungi, bacteria, nematodes, viruses, insects, and weeds) of pests. Adequate nutrients, non-compacted soil, diverse organic materials within the system, cover crops, and of course crop rotation are just a few management strategies that encourage soil health, reduce pest damage, and therefore increase crop resilience. When it comes to agriculture as a natural system, it is always important to remember that one practice might promote soil health, but also might encourage disease. An example of this is reduced tillage and retaining crop residues. Reduced till promotes healthy soils, but in the presences of some foliar diseases, tilling under the crop residue would be more beneficial to reduce disease pressure. The take away from this is to know your farm as an entire ecosystem. Considering all aspects from the beneficial microbes in the soil to potential pests and the crops you grow will lead to more successful and resilient crops. For more information about soil and plant health follow this link, https://bit.ly/2QaajQB, to the "Building Soils for Better Crops" chapter called "Soil Health, Plant Health, and Pests". To learn about agriculture as an ecosystem, watch this video, https://bit.ly/2OVJOhL, provided by the USDA NRCS called "The Science of Soil Health: Systems in Agroecology". (Chandler Day)
We are starting to receive questions on whether it is best to cut back ornamental grasses in the fall or spring. As a rule, ornamental grasses should not be cut back while green because they need time to move the energy found in the foliage into the roots. Even when browned by cold weather, most gardeners will leave the foliage until spring because of the interest it adds to winter landscapes. Early March is the preferred time to cut back these plants. However, dry foliage is extremely flammable and should be removed in the fall from areas where it is a fire hazard.
Another question we often receive is whether we can divide ornamental grasses in the fall. Spring is the preferred time because divisions done in the fall may not root well enough to survive the winter. (Ward Upham)
Many young, smooth, thin-barked trees such as honeylocusts, fruit trees, ashes, oaks, maples, lindens, and willows are susceptible to sunscald and bark cracks. Sunscald normally develops on the south or southwest side of the tree during late winter. Sunny, warm winter days may heat the bark to relatively high temperatures. Research done in Georgia has shown that the southwest side of the trunk of a peach tree can be 40 degrees warmer than shaded bark. This warming action can cause a loss of cold hardiness of the bark tissue resulting in cells becoming active. These cells then become susceptible to lethal freezing when the temperature drops at night. The damaged bark tissue becomes sunken and discolored in late spring. Damaged bark will eventually crack and slough off. Trees often recover but need TLC — especially watering during dry weather.
If you have seen this type of damage in previous years or fear you have susceptible trees, preventative measures are called for. Applying a light-colored tree wrap from the ground to the start of the first branches can protect young and/or recently planted trees. This should be done in October to November and removed the following March. Failure to remove the tree wrap in the spring can prove detrimental to the tree. (Ward Upham)
Ward Upham is the Kansas State Master Gardener Coordinator and runs the Horticulture Response Center. Other contributors include K-State Extension Specialists.