Many gardeners look forward to the exhilaration of gardening in the autumn. Around you, the garden is alight with mums, cabbage and kale, and swaying grasses backlit with light that casts long shadows but a golden glow over everything. Getting ready for the approaching cold can be handled with dispatch while crisp temperatures and blue skies are the norm. Your yard and garden work during these early fall days will leave your garden looking cared-for and ready for more fun in the spring.
There are four steps that most gardeners take in the fall—all easy:They feed and water plants for winter readiness; they plant new additions for next year’s garden; they divide mature perennials; and they clean up and prepare beds for the onslaught of winter winds.
Feeding and Watering
Plants are unable to take up water from frozen ground, so they need to store it during the days before the soil freezes. Plants also loose water—called transpiration—during the chilly months, so gardeners have to do all they can to help keep a build-up of moisture.
People worry about promoting new plant growth in the fall by feeding, but don’t be fooled. Even though you see signs of plants going dormant—typified by leaves falling off the plants—the roots are still active. The soil remains warm far longer than the air, and nutrients taken up now serve to both carry the plant through the cold and promote sturdy growth next spring. Plant Food provides a terrific fall feeding that gives plants the nutrients they need to carry them through the winter.
Besides introducing bulbs to your garden plan, plant trees, shrubs, and flowers too. Nurseries often offer bargains at this time, because they don’t want to carry plants through the winter in high-maintenance pots. Plant them six weeks before frost, and they’ll have plenty of time to establish their own territory in the garden. Feed your newly planted trees with tree fertilizer, so spring bloom will be strong, and lush growth will be sure.
Amid copper crabapple leaves, red maples and burning-bush, lilac-hued callicarpa berries and berries that are reddening on many species of shrubs, plant shrubs that will burst into springtime bloom without missing a beat. Their roots will take hold and flourish with a little autumn care. Plant what you love to anticipate—forsythia that heralds in the spring in bright yellow garb, lilac for its distinctive smell, and rhododendron and azalea that will bring vivid color to your garden.
Many perennial seeds can be sown, for this is the time that this occurs naturally within the garden. You’ll often see small plants begin from them before winter. No worry—they’ll survive, if they’re hardy perennials. And speaking of hardy—the pansies that you see for sale in nurseries now will do just fine throughout the cold months. Roots will grow strong, and spring bloom will be astonishing.
Many of this summer’s plants will have spread and outgrown their spaces by the time fall arrives. This is the best part of gardening! Divide your bounty. Increase your beds. Share with friends.
Walk through your garden with a bucket and a trowel. Anywhere a plant has outgrown its space and put out spectacular growth, chances are that you can split it into sections. Dig around it, place it in the bucket, divide it into several pieces that have active root-growth, and re-install it in several spots in the garden.
We’re programmed to think that cleaning up is not the fun part, when, in fact, clean-up in the fall garden is one of the most artistic and creative parts of gardening. Here you are in a garden that has been tumbling all over itself to grow, bloom, and burst with luscious color and grandeur, and now you’re going to sculpt what it is of the garden that you want to remain and look at through the winter months. If you like seeing empty beds, cut everything back to within an inch or so of the growth-crown. (An exception is lavender, which grows best without the benefit of a shearing. Other herbs may prefer to only be cut back partially.) If you want to see birds continue to visit, leave some of the seedheads and sturdy stalks of perennials for them to perch upon and enjoy. Grasses can be left to sway and reflect light. But if you choose to leave the growth because the look of it pleases you, be sure to cut it back in the spring before new growth gets too big.
Fall in the garden is a time of wonder. You will be amazed at the wonderful growth of the past season, and you’ll wonder what is to come next season. Crisp fall temperatures make gardening a pleasure. Every season provides different kinds of fun, for you grow in skill, knowledge, and enthusiasm as your plants cycle through the year. Enjoy them all!