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Date: October 01, 2003

Fall landscape preparation brings springtime benefits

(RICHMOND, VA) - The timing may seem unnatural, but healthy spring lawns and gardens arise from certain fall landscape activities. October is an ideal time to plant an annual rye cover crop in your garden or other landscape areas that have no vegetation during winter. Another option is to put mulch where soil may otherwise be bare.

Water-polluting nitrates move fastest through soil October through March. Cover crops helps protect the environment because their growth uses nitrogen left in the soil after fertilizer applications to spring and summer plants. Their roots hold onto soil so it does not erode before next spring's planting.

If you have not done so in the past three years, take soil samples when the garden season has ended in late summer to early fall. Sample vegetable gardens, lawns and perennial flowerbeds individually because they might need different soil treatments. Fall sampling allows time for corrective pH and nutrient management before new growth starts in the spring.

Get free boxes and information sheets to use for a soil sample from your local Virginia Cooperative Extension Office. Ask for instructions while you are there or check; click "educational programs," then "home gardening."

A routine soil test costs $7. Samples received in the fall at Virginia Tech's Soil Testing Laboratory are usually analyzed within a week. Test results indicate available nutrients in your soil and include recommendations for phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium. In addition, a routine test determines soil pH, recommending ways to raise or lower pH.

While a soil test usually does not measure nitrogen, the lab gives nitrogen fertilizer recommendations. These recommendations are based on years of research to determine plant nitrogen needs.

Other fall yard-related activities include controlling broadleaf weeds in the lawn. Call your local Extension agent to learn about controlling chickweed, dandelion, wild onion, plantain and Canada thistle.

Also, when temperatures start dropping, check for chemicals that should not be allowed to freeze. Move them to a safe storage place that gets no colder than 40F. As liquids freeze, they can break their containers, spreading concentrated chemicals within reach of children or pets.

For a lawn fertilization brochure or a month-by-month guide to an environmentally sound lawn and garden, call the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation at 1-877-42WATER. Or call your local Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners for water-wise landscaping techniques and garden layout tips. Add hardy plants to your landscape - request regional (mountain, Piedmont and coastal) native plant lists from DCR or download them from Also contact the Virginia Native Plant Society at (540) 837-1600.


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