As the year begins to wind to a close, you might think it’s time to put away your spade and gardening gloves and watch the beauty of your cultivated patch of land fade away as winter encroaches. Not so! For those of us who love to play in the dirt there is plenty to do even late in the year. From planting new blooms to properly caring for the lawn to planning next year’s garden, there’s no need to quit getting your hands dirty yet. Here are some simple tips to keep your garden exciting even as winter’s cold creeps in.
There’s a ton of work to keep you busy in the garden. You’ll start with clean-up, but once you’ve finished that, you’ll be able to plant colorful new flowers for late fall and bulbs for spring. By now your tender spring annuals are past their prime; collect any seeds they’ve developed and keep them in envelopes marked with the name and color of the type of plant they came from as well as the month and year you collected them so you can have them ready to plant next year and so you always know how old your seeds are. It’s also time to cut back any dying foliage from your established garden; prune roses, butterfly bushes, and any woody plants that don’t require old wood in order to bloom; most shrubs that are fewer than three years old will fall into this category.
Once you’ve collected seeds for next year and cleaned up what’s waiting in your garden, it’s time to replace those spring annuals with blooms for fall. There’s a wide range of beautiful flowers to choose from, and your best option is to go to your local nursery to find ones that have already been started. Choose plants that look vibrant and healthy and that have well-developed root systems to ensure the success of your fall garden (and to help reduce your work).
Look for sunny (and tall) Helianthus; multicolored, daisy-like Aster; and pastel Echinacea to create a gorgeous backdrop for shorter plants. Reminiscent of yarrow done in miniature, Sedum should just be arriving at your nursery. These hardy plants, covered with cheerful flowers throughout the fall, are perfect for containers or planting around your border. They’re perennials, so once you’ve established them, they’ll keep coming back year after year. Cyclamen should also be ready to bloom; you’ll find them in lovely opaque white or delicate pink and jewel-tone varieties, and their sun-dappled foliage will keep a smile on your face even through the winter months if you find a hardy variety. And of course, those fall classics – mums – should be on everyone’s list; easy to care for and available in a range of warm fall colors, they’re perfect for corners, borders, containers, or anywhere you need a splash of color. Once you’ve found the perfect blend of plants and colors for your garden, go ahead and put them in the ground and wait for the interplay of fall foliage at its finest.
Do not forget to water your garden throughout the autumn; simply because summer is over doesn’t mean you can let nature take over. Keep a close eye on the first six inches of your soil. If it’s dry and crumbly, or even if it’s not rich and moist, water slowly at half-hour intervals so that water will seep into at least the top six inches of your soil and help your plants develop the deep root systems they need to find their own water.
Prepare For Next Year
Fall is also the time to get things ready for the upcoming spring. It’s time to put on your spiky boots (or grab an aerator) and aerate your lawn. The process of poking deep holes in your lawn might seem counter-intuitive, but it will break up the soil and allow air and nutrients to make it directly to your lawn’s root system. It will also help you avoid compacted soil and encourage your lawn to build deeper, stronger roots. The result will be a fuller, thicker, and healthier lawn next year.
Autumn is the ideal time to begin composting. Why spend tons of money on fertilizer when you throw away everything you need to give your garden its vitamins throughout the year? Composting is easy. Simply set up three large bins – one will always have compost beginning, the next will be “cooking,” and the third will be ready. You can simply mark off three areas of ground (preferably out of the way) with fence wire and you’re ready to begin. Throw in grass clippings, bits you’ve pruned from plants, raked leaves, shredded newspaper, twigs, and organic materials from the kitchen (vegetable peels and scraps, coffee grounds, eggs shells, etc). You can even use sawdust and pieces of untreated wood in your compost heap, but avoid treated wood chips as these will poison your garden. Also avoid diseased or insect-infested plant materials to reduce the chances of them cropping up in your garden. Throw all your scraps into the compost piles and let them decompose naturally, stirring them from time to time, and eventually you’ll have a nutrient-rich, natural compost to feed your garden.
Now is also the right time to take care of bulbs. While you’re digging around planting your fall flowers, make sure to keep an eye open for Hostas, Irises, Lilies, Crocuses, Daffodils, or any bulbs you’ve already planted. It’s time to divide them, spread them out, and re-plant them so they’ll naturalize even further next year. Remember to remove and discard any bulbs that look diseased or unhealthy. Of course, this is also the perfect time to add new bulbs to the ones that already exist. When replacing or planting your bulbs, plant them at the appropriate depth; they’ve got to make it through the winter and then they’ve got to work their way through the soil in the spring. Make sure they’re protected from the cold, but not so deep that they can’t grow properly next year. Bulbs will grow almost anywhere there’s enough soil for them, except for soggy places (this will cause the bulbs to rot), so make sure, where ever you plant them, there’s enough drainage to keep the soil moist, but not muddy. Finally, plant your bulbs in odd-numbered clumps and avoid planting them in rows; this will help your vibrant bulbs sprout in natural-looking clouds next year.
Tired yet? Well there’s one last big thing to do in the garden this fall: Mulch! Add thick layers of mulch to your garden once you’ve finished your other chores. Mulch will help hold moisture in from each watering, act as a blanket to keep your garden warm through the winter, and discourage weeds from beginning to grow – not to mention the fact that a nice layer of mulch can add an eye-catching and clean-looking foundation to your glorious garden. The right kind of mulch (cedar) will even discourage insects from attacking your garden. Finally, when you’ve finished working on the lawn and garden, don’t forget to take your delicate potted plants inside for the winter before it gets too cold at night. And last, but certainly not least, enjoy the warm, wonderful colors of your fall garden!
Do you have other Autumn Gardening tips or experiences you’d like share? Or do you have a request for something you’d like to read about? Leave a comment below, and you might find your comment or suggestion presented in an upcoming blog. Keep reading for more about gardening, home décor and design, and outdoor living. Coming soon: Harvest-Time Home Touches.