Getting Your Garden Ready for Fall
Fall doesn’t always inspire the same kind of excitement from gardeners as spring, and even the name ‘fall’ lacks that other season’s peppy cheer. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s a time for boring chores like raking leaves and digging things up, but there are also lots of fun things to do in fall.
It’s the best time to plant trees and shrubs, it’s cool enough to do all of the digging and other strenuous labor you’ve been putting off all summer, and you can still plant cold-tolerant veggies and flowers. By the time you’re done with this list, maybe fall will become your other favorite time to garden.
Bring in tender plants
Instead of thinking of this as a chore, look at it this way: You’ll soon get to enjoy plants indoors all winter. The moment nights start to get chilly, it’s time to bring in any houseplants, tropicals and succulents. Remove any dead leaves or branches, as well as any insects. While you’re at it, now is also a good time to repot them with fresh potting mix.
Plants that will be grown as houseplants should be placed in bright light and kept lightly moist throughout winter, while other tropical plants should be kept in a cool, dark place and remain barely moist so that they enter dormancy. Fig trees and bananas are prime candidates for this method.
Dig up summer bulbs
Tropical summer bulbs like dahlias, cannas and colocasias should be dug up before the first frost, unless you live in zones 8-11. After lifting them from the soil, lightly brush the bulbs to remove any dirt and inspect for any hitchhiking pests. Store bulbs in paper bags filled with sawdust or shredded newspaper, and put them in a dark, dry and cool place until spring.
Plant spring bulbs
Spring bulbs such as tulips and daffodils require a cold winter to bloom their hearts out, so plant them now so they get all the cold they need. Plant tulips eight inches deep, daffodils and narcissus nine inches deep, crocus four inches deep and hyacinths five inches deep. Plant them in clumps and drifts as they would appear in nature, rather than in straight and unnatural rows.
Plant cold-tolerant annuals
Just because cold weather is on the way doesn’t mean that flowers are not an option. Many – like violas, petunias, violets and alyssum – continue to bloom through frosts.
Plant purple flowers to contrast with the warm colors of fall foliage, or choose white and yellow ones to brighten up the darkening days. Be sure to plant some in a container combination as well so that you can enjoy them at your doorstep.
Plant cold-tolerant veggies
That’s right: Fall is a great time to plant cold-tolerant vegetables, and some can even be harvested before a deep freeze. Plant garlic, onions and shallots now for a spring harvest, or if you’re too hungry to wait that long, plant fast-growing radishes and peas, or leafy greens that can be picked at any size, such as lettuce, kale, spinach and collards.
Add plants with winter interest
A well-planned winter garden can feel like a bit of warm weather on a cold day. Evergreens such as cedars, hollies and Euonymus are useful for bringing much-needed greenery and privacy to the landscape, but a plant doesn’t necessarily need evergreen leaves to look interesting. Trees and shrubs with attractive trunks, limbs and bark can look quite striking against the backdrop of snow or straw-colored grass.
Remove damaged branches
That said, shearing shrubs in fall is a bad idea. Some, such as azaleas and rhododendrons, bloom in early spring and can’t be pruned without damaging buds and ruining spring’s flowering display. However, it’s always a good time to remove limbs that are diseased, damaged or otherwise detrimental to the plant’s form or structure.
Make decorations from the garden
Some of the best seasonal decorations can be grown right in your own backyard. Pumpkins, gourds and squashes are obvious choices for fall decorating, but don’t forget to consider other plants. Woody okra pods and cotton bolls can be used to great effect for a Southern look.
If the first frost is in the forecast, make good use of any remaining blooms or foliage by turning them into an impromptu flower arrangement. Then when you have friends over, they’ll think you just throw these things together on a regular basis.
Plant trees and shrubs
Fall really is the best time to plant trees and shrubs. The best part is that instead of keeping them watered through the warm, dry days of spring, you can soon forget about them when they start going dormant for winter. When spring arrives, your plant will have a head start and established roots.
Dig new beds
Another thing to get out of the way now is digging and preparing new garden beds. The weather is pleasant enough to knock it all out in a day, and you can even plant winter vegetables there as benchwarmers until spring. By the time spring finally does roll around, just mix in some more compost or aged manure. Your garden bed will be good to go.
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