Fall is the time to put the garden and yard to bed. There are numerous chores you can do now that will simplify your life in the spring.
Cut back the dead flowers stalks on perennial flowers. Pull up annuals that have died. Consider leaving the dried grass seed heads for their winter color and interest; but, be aware that dried grasses within 30 feet of the house can become fire hazards if there is another winter fire as there was last year.
Fertilize the lawn and irrigate it well afterward. I use a fertilizer with a 16-16-16 analysis (the numbers on the bag), but there are many products available. What is important is that the fertilizer contains nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Applications of fertilizer in the fall extend the color, help the lawn tolerate the winter cold and speed spring green-up.
It is time to remove the tomato, pepper, squash plants and other cold-sensitive plants if a freeze has damaged them. For cold-tolerant veggies such as kale, chard and carrots, mulching the bed with a deep layer of straw or leaves may protect the crop for a long time even through freezes and snow. Adding row covers or low tunnels of plastic over hoops can increase your chance of winter vegetable longevity. Fall is a great time to improve your garden's soil by adding organic matter. Till or dig in leaves, cornstalks and other plant residues such as pine needles or lawn clippings. Well-aged manure helps improve a soil.
Mulch trees and shrubs with a four-inch deep layer of leaves, compost, chipped bark or other organic material in a four to six foot wide circle around plants. Keep the mulch eight to 12 inches away from the trunk to reduce the possibility of rodents eating the bark. Mulch will hold moisture in the soil through the winter protecting plants from drying sun and winds. Mound soil or compost up over the grafts (the knobby bit just above the soil) on roses to prevent them from freezing. Don't prune roses until April.
You may want to spray an anti-dessicant on evergreen trees, shrubs and also roses to protect them from winter drying.
Water everything deeply and plan on watering a minimum of once per month through the winter. Newly planted plants will need water more often than established ones. Then sit back and enjoy the rest of autumn.
JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 887-2252.