Caring for your plants as summer wanes |

Caring for your plants as summer wanes

By Joanne Skelly

With the end of the dog days of summer drawing near, our thoughts turn to preparing for fall harvest and shut down. The worst of the heat is past, and the days are getting shorter. There are a number of things you can do to prepare your plants and landscape for fall and winter.

Slowly back off the amount of irrigation you are providing, which will slow plant growth. Lawns need less water at this time of year, down from more than two and one-half inches during the heat wave, to one and three-quarters inches now. Your lawn’s water needs will continue to drop as temperatures continue to decline, so keep decreasing the irrigation time accordingly.

Water trees and shrubs deeply, but less often. Water them to a depth of 15 inches, all the way out to their drip line. If you water them less frequently, they will put out less new growth that can be damaged by the first freezes, which will probably arrive in mid-September or early October.

Fertilize your lawn late this month or early September in preparation for fall and winter. There are many lawn fertilizer products available, but I like to use a 20-20-20 or a 16-16-16 with a little added sulfur as a fall application. This combination produces good roots and food storage, and my lawn looks great in early spring. Avoid weedkiller-fertilizer combinations, as they contain more killer than nutrients. They also can damage trees, shrubs, and flowers. Wait to fertilize trees and shrubs until after a hard freeze or two to avoid encouraging new growth this late in the season.

Deadhead your flowers and give them a bit of fertilizer to encourage longer blooming. Deadheading is cutting off the tired, dried-out flowers so that new ones can take their place. Cut the flowers for indoor use while they are still lovely, and accomplish two tasks at the same time. If perennial flowers freeze, cut back the damaged stems and foliage. They will come back next spring.

Feed your vegetables to give them a boost. Remove some leaves from tomato plants to get the fruit to ripen. Plant a late crop of radishes, beets, lettuce, cilantro, parsley or other cold-tolerant crops. Harvest apples when a slight lift-and-twist motion drops the apple into your hand. Pears can be harvested green, as they will readily ripen off the tree.

Although I, for one, am not ready for fall, I know it will be here in the blink of an eye. Now is the time to start preparing your landscape for fall.

For more information, e-mail or call me at 887-2252. You can “Ask a Master Gardener” by e-mailing or call your local University of Nevada Cooperative Extension office. Check out many useful horticulture publications at

• JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.