Without further ado, we give you Jenny C. A master gardener who has wee fairies running amok among her salvias.
Gardening in the Fall
Fall is my favorite time to garden. When I first started out as a novice gardener, I naively thought that gardening was primarily a spring and summer activity. However, after that first fall that I planted those lettuce seeds and watched them grow, nursing them along through the cold and protecting them from the frost; then harvested them for Valentine’s Day dinner; I was hooked. If you live in an area, as I do, where the summers are a time of intense heat, fall provides a welcome break, giving time to enjoy working outdoors again before the onset of winter. Lower temperatures also mean that plants are less prone to disease and there are fewer garden pests to contend with. Fall is also an excellent time to
evaluate your garden and make changes or additions to your beds. Any shrubs, trees, and perennials added now have time to establish themselves adequately before the summer heat sets in.
Following are a list of things to keep in mind as you go about your garden this fall. It isn’t meant to be exhaustive and certain tasks and planting time frames will vary from zone to zone. State universities usually have extension offices in each county that can provide you with local gardening information such as specific planting dates, first hard frost date, and proven plant varieties for your area. If you are a beginner gardener, and don’t know what any of those aforementioned things are, please don’t stop reading. You’ll learn as you go. Gardening is an acquired skill – remember when you first learned how to cook? Or sew? Or ride a bike?
1. Continue to care for your lawn
I am not a “lawn person”. I am very organic when it comes to gardening and every spring I let the white clover grow prominently amongst my flowers and vegetables. Fortunately we no longer live in a neighborhood where one must have a golf course out front in order to fit in otherwise we’d be social outcasts. I have to admit that with the exception of some pre-emergent herbicide to take care of crabgrass, I do very little of the following things. I’m just putting it out there for those who do like to have a lawn.
*This seems rather obvious, but keep on mowing until the grass stops growing. We’re still mowing once a week here (we do mow) but growth is slowing down significantly.
*If you want a weed free lawn next spring, now is the time to think about it and use a pre-emergent herbicide. Basically, this is a chemical in granular form used to treat weeds that will come up next spring. It can be purchased at your local hardware or lawn care store. Just ask for “pre-emergent herbicide” and a clerk should be able to help you select what you need.
*Now is a great time to get a soil test. Again, this is where your county extension office will come in to play, as they can test your soil and tell you what nutrients are lacking and how it should be amended. You would want to amend it now before planting anything in the spring as it takes time for the added nutrients to do their thing. If you’re like me and you don’t want to bother with testing your soil, don’t worry about it. If you have earthworms, you’re doing pretty good.
2. Evaluate your flower beds
Take a look at your beds, think about how they looked when they were at their peak last summer, and ask yourself “What is my garden lacking in color, texture, shape, or size?”
* For instant color and variety, annuals could be added now. Marigolds and chrysanthemums will provide traditional fall colors and chrysanthemums have a beautiful mounded shape. Depending on where you live, pansies can be added in a few weeks. While pansies might be a bit overused, they are charming classics and also semi-hardy. If planted in the ground and sheltered some from the winter elements, they will last until next spring. You can still use them in containers, just transfer them to the ground before a hard frost and they should do fine.
*As I mentioned before, now is the best time to plant your shrubs, trees, and perennials. Most perennials will not bloom this season, but given time they will grow and develop and many will continue to bloom through the fall. Some of my favorites are salvia, any variety, and Echinacea, which is now available in a wide variety of colors including a shade called “mac ‘n cheese”.
*Bulbs such as daffodils and tulips should be planted in the fall. Don’t plant them too soon, you don’t want them to sprout just yet. I wait until around Halloween.
* Don’t be afraid to move things around if you decide that something would look better somewhere else. Now is a great time to do that. Just dig it up, making sure you have a good sized root ball and move it to the new location, watering it in well so it can begin to acclimate to its new place.
3. Plant a vegetable garden
Eating things that come out of your yard is lots of fun. You don’t need to have a large garden. You don’t have to grow everything you eat. Do grow what you like. If you don’t care for broccoli, why bother? For some areas in the country it may be too late to start from seed but check your local nursery for transplants.
* Garlic bulbs go in around the same time as your daffodils. They’ll be harvested next summer and the shoots look pretty in the garden.
*Consider semi-hardy vegetables such as lettuce, kale, Swiss chard, and beets. These are easy to grow, can take a little bit of frost and still produce just fine.
*If you really want to go for it, look into purchasing row covers to keep the frost off. If you can’t find one, use a light weight non-fusible interfacing and loosely cover your crop securing it with bricks or stones. Water and sunlight will still penetrate the fabric.
Get ready to put the garden to sleep
Begin wrapping things up and closing your garden down when frost is in the forecast or when temperatures consistently begin to drop to the 40’s or mid 30’s.
*If you have planted any non-hardy bulbs over the summer, such as Cannas or Elephant ears, lift them now to be stored over the winter.
*Prune any perennials that are not evergreen although you might consider leaving them alone to provide food for the birds and structure for an otherwise bare winter garden.
*After the first hard frost, spread 2 -4 “ of mulch around the base of your perennials. This will keep the ground at a steady temperature and thus keep them dormant until spring. You can use whatever mulch you have on hand, or leaves, or straw. Remove it next spring after your last frost date.
*Water everything well before the ground freezes.
*Clean, oil, and store your garden tools, unless you are like me and you frequently forget until it is time to use them again.
4. Enjoy your garden
Gardening is meant to be a pleasant activity. Don’t stress and over-think it too much. I would like to say that plants are very forgiving, but unfortunately not all of them are. They are however, relatively inexpensive so if you inadvertently kill something, go buy another and learn from your previous mistakes. Have fun with it!