Fertilize in October before the first heavy freeze. Use a winter fertilizer (7-3-2).
According to the University of Illinois extension service, when you shop for fertilizer you will see three numbers on the box or bag. The first number is nitrogen, the second is phosphorous, and the third is potassium. The numbers tell you the percentage of that nutrient in the bag. So, quiz time! If you have a 5-10-5 bag of fertilizer that weighs 10 pounds, then 5 percent (one-half pound) of it is nitrogen. You can now figure the amount of phosphorous and potassium.
In the fall, you want vigorous root growth. Nitrogen promotes root growth, so you want a product that has the highest first number.
Winter weeds germinate in the fall, so add a pre-emergent now. Corn gluten meal is an organic choice.
As for the leaves, rake 'em up or mow 'em down. Don't let them lie on the grass. Either remove them completely, or run over them with your mower on a regular basis throughout the fall to allow them to act as another fertilizer application for the turf. Always mow at the highest setting on your mower in the fall to help insulate the grass during the winter.
Mystery plant No. 1
Recently I've received several emails with photos of "mystery plants." I'll print them here and see if anyone can identify them.
Here's the first one:
"Ms. Busse, this plant put in an appearance in one of our planters in the middle of the summer. We left it because the foliage was rather attractive and were quite surprised when it bloomed.
"We aren't sophisticated gardeners and don't know what it is (or how it got there, for that matter). Can you enlighten us? Thanks. Richard and Judy Dunlap."
Reach Sara Busse at sara.bu...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.