Articles by Jim Gainan

As published in the Billings Gazette

Growing Up: Autumn earmarks football, fall foliage and fantastic colors

September begins the transition into fall which some argue is the most beautiful time of year, but it's a month that is complicated. Ninety-degree days with the possibility of frost in the evening make some difficult tasks for gardeners. For others, it is filled with the chores like harvesting and canning. For some, it marks an even more important fall event - Football.

Whatever your reason for enjoying fall and all of its glorious color, it is the time when changes in our gardening regimes must occur to garner the best results. Here are a few tips for fall gardening we researched last year and deserve a second read:

• Keep watering, mowing and raking your lawn until winter arrives. Long, matted grass and leaves left over the winter may cause problems next spring.

• Stop watering your established trees and shrubs when they start to go dormant (leaves turn color and drop). Watering, fertilizing with high nitrogen fertilizers and pruning live wood can encourage a new flush of growth, which will make your trees and shrubs vulnerable during winter. But, if we have a warm and dry fall, we may need to apply more water. Continue to water newly planted trees and shrubs as usual. To protect tender, dark barked trees from sun scorch, wrap the trunks with tree wrap.

• Apply dormant oil if you had problems with insects on deciduous trees. Wait until the plant is completely dormant to apply. Watch your night temperatures - dormant oil can't be applied if it is expected to freeze.

According to the Yellowstone County Extension Office, our average first frost date is September 22, but keep an eye on the weather forecast - a frost that will kill tender plants occurs at 26-30 degrees.

• Cover vegetables and annuals if frost is expected. Be sure to remove the covers by mid-morning, or else your plants may get too hot as the temperature rises during the day. If Jack Frost sneaks up on you and leaves frost on your garden, spray with water before the sun hits the plants. If the frost was light, this may save your plants by thawing them slowly. If your vegetables froze, don't rush to pick them - let the soil and plants warm before harvesting them. And if we had a hard freeze, allow the ground to thaw before harvesting root crops.

• Several fruits, such as apples, chokecherries, plums, and gooseberries will continue to ripen and become sweeter after a frost. Potatoes and onions will store better after a frost kills the tops. Pumpkins and winter squash should be harvested after a light frost, but before a heavy freeze.

Remember to think about spring, while you're out there working in your yard this fall. This is the time to plant spring blooming bulbs - tulips, daffodils, crocus, hyacinth, etc. Also, fall is a great time to plant perennials, trees and shrubs. Plants experience much less transplant shock when they are planted in the fall. The shorter days and cooler nights create less need for water. Plus, you'll have some really fun surprises of color when spring arrives in a few short months.

Jim Gainan is VP/Shareholder of Gainan's Flower and Garden Center in Billings.