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Originally published Thursday, November 14, 2013 at 5:38 AM

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Tidy up while welcoming birds; give lawn a late-season boost

Garden writer Ciscoe Morris shares tips on cleaning up as perennials die back while leaving seed heads and cover for birds and animals and fertilizing the lawn at this crucial time of year.


Special to The Seattle Times

Gardening Events

Ciscoe’s Picks

Holiday wreath classes at Windmill Gardens: 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, Nov. 22-Dec. 14. 16009 60th St. E., Sumner; $35 includes supplies and use of wreath machine, preregistration required (www.windmillgarden.com/windmill_events).

Local craft vendors at Sky Nursery: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays Nov. 23-Dec. 21. 18528 Aurora Ave. N., Shoreline (www.skynursery.com/doc/gifts_calendar.htm).

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In the Garden

By this time of year a lot of perennial plants are dying back, and it’s important to neaten things up to keep the garden from looking unsightly. At the same time, you don’t want to be too fastidious. The seed heads left in the garden will supply food for birds and other critters while foliage provides a sheltered place to forage for insects.

Your garden will look much better if you simply remove any foliage that has turned slimy or just looks unattractive. Then take a look at what remains. Berries and seed heads don’t only feed birds; many are highly attractive and add interest to the winter garden.

Seed heads on perennials such as black-eyed susans, coneflowers, Phlomis, grasses, Monarda, torch lilies, Agapanthus and many others are a major part of many of our winter birds’ diets. Removing them too soon will not only deprive birds of much needed food, but you’ll miss out on the fun of watching bushtits, nuthatches, finches, juncos and other birds flitting about, picking at seeds in your winter garden.

Finally, leave as much foliage as possible. Wait to cut back the stems and foliage of grasses, evergreen perennials, salvias, hardy Fuchsia, and similar perennials until spring. The foliage will provide cover, protection from cold winds, and foraging grounds for all sorts of birds and animals. Your critters will greatly appreciate your efforts to turn your garden into a winter sanctuary.

Give lawn a late-season boost

If you only fertilize your lawn one time per year, now until the end of the first week in December is the time to do it. Grass stops growing about this time of year, and nutrients applied now are used to manufacture food that helps develop a deep root system. Those deep roots make the grass better able to withstand summer drought, and foot traffic.

Organic fertilizers aren’t generally effective once weather turns cold, so the best product to use now is a synthetic, slow release fall- and winter-lawn fertilizer. Make sure to apply only the amount recommended on the label.

Fall and winter feeds contain iron, and if you put down too much, you will burn your lawn, turning it an ugly black color. Unfortunately, once burned in this way, the grass won’t develop the healthy, deep root system hoped for.

If you don’t know how much fertilizer to apply, rent a measuring wheel and figure out the square footage of your lawn. The label will tell you how many square feet the fertilizer in the bag will cover.

Put the correct percentage of the fertilizer from the bag into your spreader, set it at a low setting, and keep going over the lawn until you’ve applied all of the fertilizer in the spreader. This method enables you to put down the correct amount with even coverage.

Next spring, apply an organic-lawn food, but wait to do it until growth slows down, usually in the last week of April. Then try to act humble. Thanks to its deep root system, your emerald-green lawn will be the pride of the neighborhood.

Ciscoe Morris: ciscoe@ciscoe.com “Gardening With Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING 5.



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About Ciscoe Morris

Ciscoe Morris' column runs Thursdays. His show "Gardening with Ciscoe" airs at 10 a.m. on Saturdays on King 5.
ciscoe@ciscoe.com

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