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Originally published Thursday, September 16, 2010 at 7:20 PM

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Gardener: Fall gardening tips

For those of you who crave that fall color in your yard, this is the time to plant.

Scripps Howard News Service

It's been a long, hot summer in many areas of the country this year. With cooler weather coming, I really enjoy fall gardening activities as I reflect on the growing season and start putting my garden to bed.

Here are a few things to consider this fall as you brighten up areas of your yard as well as prepare for another productive season next year:

Add instant color bursts to dull areas. As you travel around your community, you can't help but notice bright golds, bronzes, maroons and other colors. Each year, chrysanthemum selections and colors continue to impress. For those of you who crave that fall color in your yard, this is the time to plant some. Just pick a sunny spot with well-drained soil and your mums will be happy. Make sure to select nursery plants that are in bud, not bloom, for a longer color display this year.

Many people don't know that mums are actually perennials. Depending on your climate, you can look forward to their arrival every year. The sooner you plant your mums, the sooner they'll become established and the greater their chance for survival into the following year. If you want to get a head start on next year, make sure your mums are well mulched this fall to help them survive the cold. As they grow next season, cut them back several inches around Memorial Day, and then do the same again around the Fourth of July. This ensures that your color show will repeat in the fall. If you don't prune them back, no need to worry — they'll just bloom earlier.

Pull those weeds. I know: This can't be music to your ears. But you'll be doing yourself and your garden a favor if you pull weeds now, before they release millions of seeds as those approaching winds get them sailing about your yard and landing back in your soil.

Remove spent flowers and seasonal vegetables. Annuals and many vegetables don't come back every year like perennials, so pull them up by the root and add them to your compost pile. Just be sure not to add any diseased parts.

Remove debris. Make sure your garden is free of debris as much as possible. You may not realize it, but leaves, twigs and other debris can be a significant repository for many types of pests and diseases that overwinter in your garden, becoming active during warm weather. Besides, the more you clean up in the fall, the less you have to do come spring. Remember to compost only healthy material.

Prune the dead wood. Pruning and removing any diseased, dead or dying wood will reduce the possibility of an infestation later. Selective pruning during the fall can also help remove branches that are likely to rub against other branches. This abrasion can open the bark layer, exposing the wood to future diseases.

Spread mulch. Protect your plants' roots by adding a layer of mulch this fall. In colder climates, mulch should be added after the ground freezes. This will prevent frost heave and help keep soil temperatures more even. Mulch also helps protect evergreen foliage from soil-borne diseases splashing back onto the plant.

Clean and put away tools. At the very end of the season, before freezing temperatures approach, don't forget to put away the hoses, drain the irrigation lines and bring in all the tools and equipment. Make sure to drain the gas from your lawn mower and sharpen the blade.

Here is a tip to clean garden tools: fill a 5-gallon bucket with all-purpose sand and a quart of motor oil. Repeatedly submerge heavily soiled tools such as spades and hoes into the bucket. The sand will strip debris while the oil protectively coats the blade. Choose a bucket with a tightfitting lid. You can reuse this mixture year after year.

These steps will help you get off to a faster start next spring, and in a cleaner, healthier garden.

JoeLamp'l,hostof"GrowingaGreenerWorld"onPBS,isaMasterGardenerandauthor.Formoreinformation,visitwww.joegardener.com.Formorestories,visitscrippsnews.com.

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