November is the time to give Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue lawns the last nitrogen application of the season. Why November? Because while top growth slows in response to cool temperatures, grass plants are still making food (carbohydrates) by photosynthesis. A November nitrogen application helps boost the photosynthesis rate. Carbohydrates that are not used in growth are stored in the crown and other storage tissues in the plant. These carbohydrate reserves help the turfgrass green up earlier in the spring and sustain growth into May without the need for early-spring (March or April) nitrogen. Those early-spring nitrogen applications are less desirable because they can lead to excessive shoot growth and reduced root growth. Other benefits of November-applied nitrogen for cool-season grasses include improved winter hardiness, root growth and shoot density.
How much should you apply? One to 1 to 1 ½ pounds actual nitrogen per 1,000 sq. ft. of lawn area is sufficient. In order for this application to be effective the nitrogen must be readily available to the plant because the growing season is nearly over. Therefore, for a November application, use a soluble (quickly-available) nitrogen carrier such as urea or ammonium sulfate. Many turfgrass fertilizers sold in garden centers and other retail outlets also contain soluble nitrogen. Avoid products that contain water-insoluble nitrogen (slow-release) for this application. As always, sweep up any fertilizer that gets on driveways, sidewalks, or streets and reapply it to the lawn. (Ward Upham)
What to Do with Tree Leaves
It's that time of year again. Leaves are rapidly falling from deciduous trees so it's a good time to stop and think about options for handling the litter. Although a scattering of leaves won’t harm the lawn, excessive cover prevents sunlight from reaching turfgrass plants. Turf left in this state for an extended period will be unable to make the carbohydrates needed to carry it through the winter.
There are options for dealing with the fallen leaves other than bagging them up and putting them out for the trash collector. Composting is a great way to handle the refuse. Compost can then be used in the vegetable garden and flowerbeds.
An even easier method of making good use of the leaves is direct incorporation in either vegetable gardens or annual flower beds. Use a lawn mower with a bagging attachment to chop and collect the leaves. Transport them to the garden or bed and apply a 2- to 3-inch layer of leaves on the surface of the soil and then till them in. Repeat the process every couple of weeks until you run out of leaves or the weather becomes too cold or the soil becomes too wet. With luck, you should be able to make 3 to 4 applications this fall.
Another option is to mow the leaves with a mulching mower and let shredded leaves filter into the turf canopy. (A side-discharge mower also will work, but it won't shred the leaves as thoroughly.) This method will be most effective if you do it often enough that leaf litter doesn’t become too thick. Mow while you can still see grass peeking through the leaves.
You may wonder whether this practice will be detrimental to the lawn in the long run. Research at Michigan State University in which they used a mulching mower to shred up to about one pound of leaves per square yard of lawn (one pound is equal to approximately 6 inches of leaves piled on the grass) for five consecutive years, found no long-term effects of the shredded leaves on turf quality, thatch thickness, organic content of the thatch, or soil test results (pH, nutrients, etc.). If you mow leaves and have a cool-season lawn, it makes sense to be on a fall nitrogen fertilization program and core-aerate in the fall (things you should be doing anyway). If you have a warm-season lawn, you can still use this technique but wait to fertilize and core-aerate until next late May or early June. (Ward Upham)
As soon as garden chrysanthemums are done flowering, you may cut the plants back to 2 to 3 inches high. Some gardeners prefer to leave the top growth so that it provides some protection from fluctuating soil temperatures. If you choose to cut the tops off, apply a layer of mulch over the top of your mums after the ground has frozen or if the forecast calls for a sharp drop in temperature. Mums should not completely dry out during the winter. It may be necessary to water occasionally if sufficient rain or snow has not fallen. (Ward Upham)
Roasting Pumpkin Seeds
Now that Halloween will soon be past, you may be wondering what to do with the pumpkins that were used to decorate for the holiday. Consider roasting the seeds before freezing temperatures destroys the pumpkin fruit. Cut open the pumpkin and remove the seeds and stringy material. Seeds should be washed and dried and the “strings” discarded. Toss the seeds with a little oil before roasting.
Flavor can be enhanced by adding a sprinkling of salt to the oiled seeds. Seeds can then be spread on a cookie sheet and roasted for about 25 minutes at 325 degrees F. Times may vary depending on the size and moisture content of the seed. Seeds are done when they turn a golden brown. If seeds are not eaten immediately, store in a zip closure bag in the refrigerator. (Ward Upham)
Draining Hoses and Irrigation Lines
Hoses and shallow irrigation lines may be damaged over the winter if water is not drained. If there is a main shut-off valve for the system, close it and then run through the zones to make sure any pressure has a chance to bleed off. Lawn irrigation systems usually have shallow lines. Though some lines may be self-draining, check to be sure there are no manual drains. If manual drains are present, they should be opened. Be sure to map them so they can be closed next spring before the system is pressurized. If there are no manual drains the system should be blown out with an air compressor. Lawn irrigation companies often offer this service.
Drain hoses by stretching them out and coiling them for storage. Water will drain as you pull the hose toward you for coiling. Store in a protected place. UV light can make hoses brittle over time. (Ward Upham)
We are starting to see very noticeable natural needle drop on some evergreens such as arborvitae, pines and spruce. This is a process where 2- to 4-year-old interior needles turn yellow, then brown, and eventually drop off. Those who aren't familiar with this process often are concerned about the health of the tree. This is a natural phenomenon that occurs every year and does not hurt the tree. However, some years it is much more noticeable than others. Be sure to check that only the older needles are affected --the needles on the tips of the branches should look fine--and that there is no spotting or banding on the needles that are turning yellow. If spotting or banding is noted, take a sample to your local county extension office for diagnosis. You can find the location of your local office at http://www.ksre.k-state.edu/about/stateandareamaps.html (Ward Upham)
Branches Dropping from Trees
Matthew McKernan, one of our horticulture agents in Sedgwick County, has reported seeing branches fall from Cottonwood and Sawtooth oak in the Wichita area.
This is a condition known as cladoptosis. Cladoptosis occurs when a tree sheds branches. This is very similar to the shedding of leaves in that in both cases, an abscission layer forms that allows the leaf or branch to drop cleanly. There is no tearing as the leaf or branch breaks free. On branches, the
abscission scar resembles a socket and the attaching part of the branch resembles a ball.
Though sometimes due to shading or injury, in this case, the trigger for branch shedding appears to be a reaction to drought or the alternate wet and dry periods we have had this year. Be
especially vigilant about watering such trees before winter if the soil is dry. (Ward Upham)
Generally, it is recommended to plant hardy bulbs (especially daffodils) in October to give them enough time to root before winter. But it is certainly not too late to plant them in early November. As long as the soil temperatures are above 40 degrees F, the bulbs should continue root development. You can find the previous week’s soil temperature readings for areas across the state from our Weather Data Library at http://mesonet.k-state.edu/agriculture/soiltemp/
Athough many of the best bulbs have probably already been purchased, garden centers may still have a good selection. Be sure to select large, firm bulbs that have not begun to sprout. While many bulbs can adapt to a wide range of soil types, none can tolerate poorly drained soil. Prepare the planting bed by adding organic matter such as peat moss, well-rotted manure, or compost and mix into the soil.
Adequate fertility is essential. It is best to rely on a soil test to determine what nutrients are needed. Garden soils that have been fertilized regularly in the past may have excess levels of phosphorus. Excess phosphorus can interfere with the uptake of other essential micronutrients though levels need to be extremely high to be of concern. In cases where levels of phosphorus are high, it would be better to use a fertilizer relatively high in nitrogen such as a 29-5-4, 27-3-3, or something similar. Although these are lawn fertilizers, they will work well for our purposes as long as they don’t contain and weed preventer or weed killer. Apply these fertilizers at the rate of 2/3 pound (3 cups) per 100 square feet.
Organic sources of fertilizers low in phosphorus include blood meal (12-0-0) applied at 5 to 10 pounds per 100 square feet, cottonseed meal (6-0.4-1.5) applied at the rate of 10 pounds per 100 square feet and soybean meal (7-2-1) applied at the rate of 8 pounds per 100 square feet.
In the absence of a soil test, or if phosphorus is needed, add a low analysis, balanced fertilizer such as 5-10-5 or 6-10-4 at the rate of 2 to 3 pounds (4 to 6 cups) per 100 square feet of bed. Mix all amendments thoroughly with the soil before planting the bulbs.
The size and species of the bulb determines how deep to plant. In general, the depth to the bottom of the bulb should be about 2 to 3 times the size of the bulb, but check the planting instructions specific to each particular flower. (Ward Upham)
Ward Upham runs the Horticulture Response Center in the Department of Horticulture and Natural Resources at Kansas State University. Other contributors include K-State Extension Specialists.