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Top Ten Things to Do This Fall—and One Big Don't!

  1. Impatiens, 'annual begonias' and pepper plants can be long lived perennials if you protect them from frost. So if you live in a non-tropical clime, and want to give this trick a try pot them up and bring them inside before nighttime temperatures drop below 40 degrees. Give pepper plants the strongest possible light indoors. (Read this previous Q of the Week for more details.) Those shade-loving flowers will do fine in any somewhat sunny windowsill.

  2. Rinse off those pepper plants—and any returning houseplants—with sharp streams of water before you bring them inside. Laser-like blasts of water are the best way to get rid of aphids and other hitchhiking pests before they can come inside and multiply.

  3. Don't feed indoor plants other than potted citrus over the winter. And water your indoor plants very lightly over the winter. Indoor plants (other than citrus) can't process food in the winter and generally use much less water than plants in summer. (Exception: If your indoor air is very dry over the winter, you may have to water frequently. Always judge water need by the weight of the pot; light pots need water; heavy pots need you to leave them alone.)

  4. Hang suet feeders in your landscape; especially in fruit trees and trees (like ash) that are under attack by borers in many regions. Suet attracts meat-eating birds like chickadees, wrens and woodpeckers that prey on the overwintering eggs and larvae of some of our most destructive insect pests. And those suet-fed birds will nest nearby, insuring that they'll be around when the adult forms of those bad bugs wake up in the Spring.

  5. Protect edible (and tasty!) bulbs like tulips and crocus from Evil Squirrels! Be sure to completely clean up any wrappers and other 'bulb trash' that would otherwise lead Evil Squirrels to your underground treasures. Then either spray the bed with deer repellant or take the advice of bulb expert Sally Ferguson and brush your dog overtop of the bed and/or mulch the bed with collected dog hair. The smell of dogs is a great way to keep Evil Squirrels at bay.

  6. If you haven't planted garlic yet, do it soon! {See this previous Q of the Week for details.}

  7. If you have a cool-season lawn and haven't fed it yet, do it soon. {See this previous Q of the Week for details.}

  8. Plant pansies outdoors now for bloom that will last through the holidays in even the coldest regions—and then survive to perk up again in the Spring. Save the branches from discarded cut Christmas trees and use them for springy protection overtop of the pansies if heavy snow or ice storms are predicted. And be sure to pick and eat lots of the pansy flowers—they're a great natural source of rutin, a nutrient that can prevent and/or reverse the visible effects of spider and varicose veins. (Pansy flowers also make a 50-cent salad look like a million bucks.)

  9. If you're planning on buying a truly live Christmas tree—a balled and burlaped specimen that you'll plant in the ground after the holidays—dig the planting hole now. If you don't, it's virtually guaranteed that your soil will be frozen hard in December and that the weeks after Christmas will feature endless ice and snow storms. Dig a wide hole, not a deep one, in an area that gets sun on all sides and has room for the skirt to grow nice and wide without bouncing off the side of your houses. Cover the hole for safety, store the removed soil where it won't freeze and read our A to Z article on tree planting before you try and put that poor puppy in the ground.

  10. Plant new trees and shrubs now. The survival rate for big plants installed in the Fall is much better than if they were planted in the Spring. And you can get some great discounts at this time of year. Just be sure to read that article on proper tree planting first.

But Do NOT prune anything now. Pruning stimulates new growth, which can prove fatal to perennial plants when temperatures plummet. Allow your plants to go fully dormant before you even consider cutting. In general, you should prune big trees in the dead of winter; prune summer bloomers in the Spring; and prune Spring bloomers AFTER they finish flowering.

If you're unsure of when to prune, don't prune!

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