This has NOT been a NORMAL year for plants!!! In Nebraska it seems we say this every year. But I think this has truly been a strange year and a hard year for plants. So much so that Iowa State University Extension Service published an article on “Stressed-Out Plants”. (Horticulture & Home Pest News-July 25, 2007)  (  

In March we had unusually warm weather and everything seemed to break dormancy early. Buds began to break and I can’t remember plants beginning to grow so early. Then in early April in Lincoln and most of Nebraska we had at least four nights when the temperature dropped to the teens. In my garden it took care of the raspberries, the peach trees, the plum trees, and the pear trees. It did not kill the trees but I did not get any fruit. The STAR MAGNOLIA had been in full bloom for a week and all the flowers turned black. I did get a handful of CHERRIES from the “NORTH STAR” CHERRY TREE.

Now the “HERITAGE” RED RASPBERRIES and the “FALL GOLD” RASPBERRIES are loaded and I am ready to start enjoying them on my cereal and sharing them with our 12 year old granddaughter. The fruit trees look very good and should produce next year, if we don’t get a late frost next year. My tomatoes, squash, and pumpkins are doing great as I put them in later than usual.

One positive benefit from the late frost is we did not have all the helicopter seeds from our big Maple tree and Gladys did not have a snowy white yard this year from the big COTTONWOOD Tree.

          In the lawns, the grass started to green up in March and too many homeowners put on their pre-emergent crabgrass control too early and then did not put on a second application in June. Therefore, we have many, many lawns with an abundant crop of crabgrass and other weeds. The rains in May and then the above average heat in July and August, also has put stress on trees, shrubs, lawns, fruit trees, and even annuals. Containers have had to have extra water this summer.

                    The big question is: WHAT DO WE NEED TO DO NOW!!! As the title of this article suggests, “Fall is for planting and renewing!!” If you have a dead tree, shrub, or plant, fall is the time to replace it. If you have a bare spot where some perennials did not make it, now is the time to fill that spot. August is the time to plan and prepare your course of action and your soil. What are you going to put in that spot? Drive around and see what other people have that appeals to you or go to your garden center and ask what is new or what they suggest. FALL IS FOR PLANTING!!!

The second part of the title suggests that fall is the time to renew. The best time to dig and divide IRIS is in August and early September, and for PEONIES, September. In renewing your trees and shrubs this fall, be very careful when and how you prune. If you are not sure, talk to an expert at your garden center or call your County Extension Educator. DO NOT PRUNE spring blooming shrubs such as lilac, forsythia, bridal wreath spirea, and flowering almond. They should be pruned after they bloom next spring. Fruit trees and grapes are best pruned in late February or early March. The best time to prune most deciduous trees is also in late February or March before they leaf out.

If you are not planting grass seed, September is a very good time to aerate you lawn. Core aeration involves removing plugs from your lawn and this needs to be done at least once per year in order to provide good drainage and help thatch to decompose naturally. Thatch does not come from grass clippings left on the yard. Thatch is caused by over fertilization and is from the crown of the plant. As I said, core aeration helps thatch to decompose naturally and is not as hard on the lawn as power raking. Specialists recommend power raking only if the thatch is unusually bad.

If you are renting an aerator or hiring a lawn service to do it for you, be sure and check the length of the tines on the machine.  New tines are 6 inches long.  If the tines are 4 inches or less, have them put on a new set.  They don’t take long to replace so wait until it is done. If you have hard clay soil, which is most of us:

·     Water your lawn thoroughly two days before so tines can go in easily

·     Aerate  your lawn

·     Rake in fine compost or a soil amendment such as Structure or Profile. Do not add gypsum as it is a waste of money and does no good in Nebraska. Also, do not add lime unless you have the results from a soil test that recommends it.

·     Fertilize 

·     Water in your fertilizer.

The two most important times of the year to fertilize your lawn is around Labor Day and then again between Halloween and Thanksgiving. The winter application comes the day after you put your mower to bed for the winter.

          Overseeding or renovating your lawn is best done after the middle of August and before the middle of September. Aerate your lawn as outlined above, then wait a day or two and apply a starter fertilizer and your grass seed. Take the seed so it gets good contact with the soil and then start watering. The worst thing that can happen to your grass seed is to have it dry out.  A light mulch of straw helps to conserve moisture. You will have to water at least once and possibly twice a day to keep it moist, not soaking wet.

          Make sure you use a blend of the best seed you can find that is specifically for our Nebraska clay soils, and is disease resistant. You will not find this at a grocery store, or a box store, or in a discount store. Cheap seed in a box will have grasses not suited for Nebraska and will not be disease resistant.  Cheap seed or the wrong seed will cost you quite a bit more in maintenance costs over the next 5 to 10 years than if you buy quality seed now.  DON’T BUY CHEAP SEED!!!

          One last precaution: DO NOT FERTILIZE TREES, SHRUBS, ROSES, PERENNIALS, AND POND PLANTS AFTER THE MIDDLE OF AUGUST. Fertilizer promotes growth and any new growth from a late fertilization will not mature and harden off sufficiently to withstand our Nebraska winters. Wait and fertilize these in the spring.

Copyright 2007