Dear Master Gardener: I would like to plant some spring-flowering bulbs this fall. Which bulbs are hardy in this area and when and how should they be planted?

Hardy spring flowering bulbs such as tulips, daffodils, snowdrops (Galanthus), and Siberian squill (Scilla) are easy to grow in our cold climate. These bulbs actually require a cold treatment in order to flower.

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Once your bulbs are purchased, you should try to plant them as soon as possible. Spring flowering bulbs need rich, well-drained soil and do not like to have "wet feet." They need sunny locations; the more light they receive, the better they come back each year. Because bulbs usually flower before the deciduous trees and shrubs are leafed out, bulbs may be planted underneath or near them.

September garden tips

Houseplants that spent the summer outdoors should be gradually returned indoors. Wash them off carefully and check for insects and disease.

Fall is the best time to control lawn weeds if you use herbicides. The weeds are beginning to send their nutrients into their roots for winter, letting herbicides ride along.

Clean up fallen apples promptly before insects and disease work their way into the soil.

Divide perennials this month. Replant and/or reposition the divisions and share extras with others.

Label perennials now while you still remember what they are and where they are.

Dig up dahlia and tuberous begonia bulbs, discarding rotting or diseased ones. Gently remove soil and dry foliage and stems. Cure them for several days out of direct sunlight and store them in dry peat.

If you plan to plant an apple tree next year but don't know what kind you want, now is the time to sample them in orchards and stores.

Amaryllis plants that spent the summer in the garden should be brought indoors this month and allowed to dry out and die down before rehydrating them for winter growth and bloom.

Think ahead to winter interest. Leave some stems and grasses and seed pods to break the monotony of the purely horizontal and to catch snow. Consider shrubs with berries that persist or with stems with color.

If you have been thinking about becoming a Master Gardener, contact Jackie Froemming at the Crow Wing County Extension office at 824-1065.

Plant spring-flowering bulbs early in the fall so the roots have time to develop. A rule of thumb for planting depth is two-and-a-half times the diameter of the bulb (one or two inches deeper in light sandy soils). Plant the bulbs with the pointed end facing up and press the bulb into the prepared soil so that the base is resting at the appropriate depth. Fill the hole with soil and water.

Fertilize bulbs at the time of planting and once again in the spring when they are flowering. Mulch the surface with three to five inches of shredded leaves, grass clippings or straw to insulate the bulbs and help keep soil temperatures more constant during the late fall and early spring. If rainfall is below normal, water bulbs several times to establish a good root system.

Dear Master Gardener: Is fall too late to plant shrubs?

Many garden centers and nurseries are selling their shrubs and trees at discounted prices to reduce their inventory before winter, so now is a good time to save money on them. You can safely plant shrubs and trees in the fall as long as you water them well until the ground freezes and mulch them.

Add three to four inches of shredded bark or wood chip mulch in a circle over the root area, but leave several inches between the trunk or main stems and the mulch. Placing mulch in a "volcano" with mulch piled up against the trunk may encourage disease.

Dear Master Gardener: Is there a way to save the herbs from my garden?

Herbs from your garden may be dried and stored in several ways. When you pick your herbs they should be kept out of bright light. If washing the herbs is necessary, then wash them gently with warm water and either pat them dry or dry them in a salad spinner. Air drying is the preferred method, as long as the conditions are right.

Tie the ends of four to five stems together with string or heavy-duty thread and hang upside down in a dark, warm, well-ventilated room. They should be dry in about one to two weeks. You may also air dry herbs using screen racks, but make sure they are spread out in one layer.

Oven drying is another method of drying herbs. Spread them evenly over a screen type tray and put them in the oven at the lowest temperature, or no hotter than 100 F. Keep the oven door open and check on them every 30 seconds. They will be dry within one to one-and-a-half minutes. You may also use a microwave, but this is the least desirable method of drying because they tend to lose more of their essential oils during this process.

Once your herbs are dried, strip the leaves from the stems and discard the stems. Store the leaves whole because the larger the piece, the better the flavor. Store them in air-tight containers away from bright light and heat. They should last up to a year. You may also freeze herbs in labeled bags or chop them up and pack them into ice cube tray compartments with a little water added. Once they are thawed they cannot be refrozen, so you may want to freeze them in small quantities.

Dear Master Gardener: Is it possible to grow garlic in Minnesota? If so, what kind and how?

Yes, but unlike the planting of other vegetables, it should be planted after the first frost in the fall. There are two kinds of garlic, hardneck and softneck, but hardneck seems to grow best in Minnesota. While you can plant individual cloves of a head of garlic purchased in the produce section of the supermarket, you won't know what kind it is. A better idea is to purchase heads from a garden center or catalog. Good hardneck varieties are Chesnok Red, Music and Siberian.

After that first frost, amend the soil with compost, then plant individual cloves about three inches deep and six inches apart, pointed end up. Add an inch of compost on top of the soil.

Fertilize the garlic in the spring, about the end of May. It is ready to harvest when about half the base leaves have turned brown, about mid-July. It is known to have cholesterol-lowering qualities in addition to its pungent flavor.

Dear Master Gardener: What is core aeration of a lawn and when should it be done?

Core aeration is one of the most valuable things you can do for your lawn to increase water and oxygen penetration and promote root growth. It is a process in which soil cores are extracted by a machine with hollow tines or spoons on a disk or drum.

These cores, which looks like goose droppings, are one-and-a-quarter to three-quarter inches in diameter and between two and four inches in length. They are thrown onto the lawn where they should be left to disintegrate in the rain.

The procedure reduces thatch, the layer of living and dead vegetation between the soil surface and the growing green grass in a lawn. When the thatch is deeper than three-quarter of an inch, it leads to insect damage and lawn disease problems. Core aeration also reduces soil compaction resulting from heavy foot traffic or automobiles or construction equipment on the soil surface.

The best time for core aeration is mid-August to mid-September. Core aeration machines can be rented from hardware stores, rental services and sometimes from garden centers. The machines tend to be heavy and can be difficult for small and light persons to manipulate.

Spiked shoes advertised as "aerators" are not effective, nor are machines without the hollow tines or spoons. Though core aeration alone is beneficial for lawns, fertilizer applied immediately afterwards takes advantage of the holes for deeper and quicker soil penetration.

CROW WING COUNTY MASTER GARDENERS are trained and certified volunteers for the University of Minnesota Extension Service. All information given in this column is based on research and information provided by the University. To ask a question, call the Master Gardener Help Line at 824-1000, extension 4040, and leave a message. A Master Gardener will return your call.