As the fall weather sets in, you need to change your gardening practices to prepare your landscape for the season ahead. Start your labor about six weeks before the first hard frost.
Assess the damage
A flower garden can tell you a lot at the end of the growing season. You will want to evaluate the results of all your spring and summer work and prepare the garden for next spring. First, take a walk in your garden and see how all the plants have been doing during the summer. Track the successes and failures of individual factories. Identify plants that are out of space and need to be divided.
Determine which bare areas could use a soil amendment and new plants. Add mulch if necessary.
Check for diseases
Check the overall health of the plants – look for disease and damage.
Replace the old with the new
Replace summer annuals in planters and flower beds with fresh flowers. Dig up any bulb plants that are not hardy in your area.
You will want to weed, remove withered flowers, divide overgrown plants, dig up non-hardy bulbs for overwintering, remove withered annuals, amend the soil, and add any necessary mulch. Replace the ties with jute twine. Natural fibers make the best bonds because they are more flexible. They will decompose over time, but at this point it will still be time to reattach the plants. Amend the soil where there are bare spots or where you have removed annuals. Add compost and peat moss to replace nutrients lost during summer growth and to better prepare the soil for spring planting. Turn the amendments into the soil with a garden fork to distribute it evenly. Brush off any mulch that sits on the shrub branches, as it can cause leaves and needles to turn yellow.
Preparing the lawn
During the first six weeks, this will be a great time to sow cool season grasses such as fescue and rye; this will give them the opportunity to germinate and develop a good root system before freezing temperatures arrive.
Fertilize the lawn
This is also a good time to fertilize lawns, preferably with an all-natural, slow-release fertilizer. When given adequate nutrients, lawns can store food in the form of carbohydrates during the winter months. This will mean a nicer lawn in the spring. This six week window is also an ideal time to make a second application of Selective Preemergence Herbicide. The first application – which lawn enthusiasts generally apply from late winter to early spring – takes care of the weed seeds that have overwintered in the lawn. The second application is for weed seeds deposited during the summer months. At the end of the year, you can also make a post-emergence herbicide application, or you can treat weeds on an ad hoc basis with a non-selective herbicide such as glyphosate. For spot treatments, you can also use an all-natural formulation such as horticultural vinegar or clove oil. Caution: Know the difference between selective and non-selective herbicides. Selective herbicides target specific weeds or seeds without damaging turf or landscape plants in the process. Non-selective herbicides destroy anything and everything that is green.
Fall is not the best time to prune roses. Pruning stimulates new growth which may not survive the winter, especially in colder areas. Don’t even cut dead wood.
Care of yarrow
Remove withered flowers and dried stems and foliage. This returns energy to the foliage and roots and encourages new growth. Yarrow flowers can be used fresh or dried in flower arrangements.
Cut off any faded flowers. If powdery mildew is present, remove most of the stem that has the most problems. Throw out all affected debris – do not compost.
It is important to get them out of the ground before the first killing frost; it does not harm plants to do this while their foliage is still green. Remove the bulbs and gently shake off excess dirt from their roots. Cut the stems. Allow the bulbs to “harden” (dry) for a few days. Shake off any remaining soil from the bulbs. Put the bulbs in a cardboard box with peat moss and store them in a cool, dry place for the winter.
To divide, dig up the entire tuft and then cut it into sections. Replace one section in the original hole and save the remaining sections for other bare areas of the garden.
Cut the vine to the ground. New shoots will form from the base next spring.
This moisture-loving plant prefers to be divided every three to four years. This will help the plant to continue to grow in the following years.
Caring for coral bells
To divide overgrown plants, dig up the entire clump. Try to keep most of the root ball intact with as much soil as possible around the root. Cut the tuft into sections with a spade.
Completely suppress the top growth. Once the foliage is dead, you must cut it back to the ground to reduce the risk of diseases of the plants that live there during the winter.
Remove all annuals from the garden
Remove all annuals from the garden. You can save the seeds of most annuals and plant them next year. Zinnias are an easy plant to harvest and grow from seed. For planters, simply remove summer annuals, add more potting soil, and plant cool weather flowers like ornamental kale and pansies.
Disinfect pruning shears
Disinfect pruning shears before using them on other plants while removing dead flowers and foliage throughout the garden.
Take care of your compost
Don’t put diseased plants in your compost pile.
Dividing perennials invigorates plants and gives you new plants to add to other areas of your garden or to share with neighbors and friends.
Prepare your plants in containers
Believe it or not, the most overlooked group of plants this time of year are potted plants, and there is a lot to consider when it comes to their care.
By definition, these plants only last a year, but there are ways to extend their lifespan. You can, for example, take cuttings from various annuals and root them in water or potting soil such as vermiculite, perlite, or soil without soil. Remember to remove all leaves from the stem except the first few leaves, to keep the potting soil moist at all times, and to keep the plants out of direct sunlight. Within a few weeks, the plants should develop a dense mass of roots, in which case you can pot them and grow them as houseplants. It doesn’t work with all annuals, but it’s fun to experiment with.
Many tropical plants, including palms and bananas, make excellent houseplants throughout the winter months. A good thing to do now is to make room for all of your tropical plants indoors, as this is also the time of year when sudden drops in temperature can occur out of nowhere. Tropical woods like plumeria and citrus can easily overwinter indoors – or in the garage, as long as the temperature doesn’t drop below freezing.
Consider transplanting the perennials from their containers directly into the garden. Carefully remove them from their pots, prune their roots a little to stimulate the growth of new nourishing roots, plant them in the ground, and prune their top shoots a little.
They tend to look pretty shabby towards the end of summer, so harvest and dry them or consider moving them indoors. In general, however, herbs don’t grow very well indoors unless they get plenty of natural or fluorescent light. (The same goes for most succulents, although cacti seem to be the best of them.)
Keep the birds coming
When you invite birds into your garden by feeding them, they do a fantastic job of controlling the insect population, which means you don’t need to spray or dust as often to control pests.
Don’t forget the hangar
Take the time to clean up your garden storage area, throwing out old chemicals – responsibly of course – and taking note of what you’ll need to replenish before next spring. A number of gardening products have a shelf life and can lose their effectiveness over time or if they get too hot or too cold. This is especially true for botanical insecticides such as Bt and beneficial fungi. And of course you should take care of your tools. Rub the surfaces of metal tools with a light coating or oil; rub the handles of wooden tools with boiled linseed oil; and sharpen whatever needs it with a suitable file.