Fall Gardening Tips
Fall can be a depressing season for gardeners. The shorter days and changing leaves signify the end of the growing season and the approach of the cold, dark winter when only houseplants remain green and vibrant. Except for those who live in constantly warm climates, fall is the beginning of the end. But as summer winds down, don’t despair; there are still plenty of enjoyable tasks to be done in the garden during autumn. Not only is this a time to care for and enjoy the last flowers of the year, it’s an important stage in the development of next year’s garden!
PREPARE THE GARDEN FOR SPRING
Although the end is near for this year’s garden, it’s the perfect time to begin planning for the coming spring. A number of bulbs that flower early should be planted in the fall. Snowdrops and crocuses are two of the first flowers to bloom in the spring, and they should both be planted in the fall. Tulips, daffodils, hyacinths- both the grape and the full-sized variety- and squill are other popular spring bulbs that should be planted before frost. Bright pink tulips, cheery yellow daffodils and deep purple hyacinths create a symphony of scent and color in the spring garden, welcoming the new growing season. Lily of the Valley, another spring-flowering bulb, has dainty white bells nodding above long, elegant leaves. Their unique shape and sweet fragrance are beautiful accents in a spring garden. By planting these bulbs in the fall, you can enjoy vivid colors and pleasing aromas once the snow melts.
Conversely, summer-blooming bulbs should be dug up in the fall and stored in a dry, frost-free environment until spring when they are to be replanted. Keeping them in peat moss in a closet with good ventilation is ideal. Bulbs need to be slightly moist so they don’t dry out, but too much moisture or humidity can lead to rot. Dahlias, hardy begonias, colchicum and gladiolus are a few varieties that should over-winter indoors. Many other bulbs- including lilies, oxalis and ranunculus- need to be stored inside in colder climates but are ground-hardy in southern areas. Check your USDA hardiness zone to be sure that your summer bulbs can survive the winter underground. If you’re in doubt, dig them up now and keep them inside until the ground thaws.
Along with bulbs, spring-flowering perennials should be divided in the fall for optimum growth in the spring. Bleeding hearts, primroses, coral bells (also known as alumroot), irises and peonies should all be divided before cold weather sets in. A spading fork or trowel can be used to separate clumps of knotted roots; then replant the divided results and water them well. By dividing early-flowering perennials in the fall, they have the entire dormant season to conserve energy and flower anew the following year. Disturbing them just before they flower will prevent them from blooming, so now is the time to take an overzealous perennial and divide it into smaller plants. The result is a larger amount of a plant you already grow and enjoy!
PROTECT THE GARDEN FOR WINTER
Before the first frost sets in, be sure to prepare your garden for the winter. Deadhead any remaining spent blooms, especially on the late-flowering plants like asters and chrysanthemums. You don’t need to completely cut the foliage from your perennials; it will provide shelter and sometimes food for animals in winter. If you live in a colder climate, and much of the U.S. falls under that category, you will need to mulch your garden to protect perennials from freezing. Free mulch is all around your yard already: fallen leaves. Rake the leaves shed from deciduous trees and use them as a blanket over your beds and borders. The best approach is to first mow them with a mulching mower and then spread the chopped remains. This method will prevent moisture from getting trapped under the leaf mulch, thereby lowering the risk of rot and damage to the plants. Including compost in your mulch will nourish the soil throughout the winter and encourage vigorous growth next spring. Roses should be covered with rose cones for protection; these can be found at garden centers and will assure that your roses come through the winter unscathed.
In short, autumn need not be a time of sadness for gardeners. By preparing and protecting your garden, you are continuing the cycle of life for your plants. Planting spring-flowering bulbs and dividing perennials ensures a colorful display of blooms as soon as spring arrives. Being able to plan and create your springtime garden is comforting continuity as this growing season ends. Meanwhile, the other perennials comfortably resting under their blanket of compost and mulch will thank you next year with a vigorous display of vibrant blooms. So enjoy the last few months in your garden this year, and look forward to the beauty that next year holds.
Growing Great Crops in the Fall
- Salad greens, such as lettuce, arugula and spinach generally prefer the cooler temperatures of fall and spring. In fact, growing these vegetables in the summer months may lead to a tough, weedy texture combined with a grassy flavor, neither ideal for salad greens. Because these vegetables all grow very quickly, seeds can be planted from early to late fall and harvested throughout the autumn season for tender, tasty salad greens.
- Green beans, planted in late summer, can be harvested throughout the fall months.
- Garlic and shallots also typically thrive in cooler weather. Plant in early autumn to harvest prior to the first freeze.
- Garlic and shallot bulbs can also be planted prior to the first freeze and then bedded in with hay over the winter months to ensure harvest in early spring.
- Many herbs will survive well into autumn. Sage, thyme, chives and parsley can all be used until the first hard freeze of fall.
- Once the foliage on your herbs has died, cut the plant off at the ground and cover with several inches of hay or another type of mulch over the winter in the hopes of the plants returning in the fall.
- Carrots generally thrive in the cooler winter months.
- Depending on the climate in which you live, broccoli and cabbage may also be good choices to plant in late summer/early fall for harvest in October.
- Fall vegetable gardening is also a process of preparing the garden for the following spring. Make sure to till up the garden in the fall before the ground freezes. Tilling the soil will help loosen up the ground for the spring.
- Rake up any leaves from your garden and pile them on top of the garden area after you have tilled the soil. Over the winter, these leaves will rot, making excellent compost come spring. Tilling the decayed leaf material into your soil in the spring will help create wonderful soil conditions for next year.