As late summer slowly turns into early autumn we often get busier, we are back to school, back to work, and the shorter days are making us hustle our way through life. But a few minutes in the garden now and then will not only make you feel better mentally and physically but will also keep your garden looking nice until winter. Here are a few tips on late summer and fall gardening.
If you haven’t been taking pictures of your garden regularly now is the time to do so. But don’t just take pictures of the pretty areas of the garden, take some shots of the not so pretty spots too. Save the pictures so next spring you’ll have a record of where to make improvements, whether its planting for additional color, thinning out areas where it’s too crowded or just rearranging plants. If there’s a plant you need to identify – or a bug or plant disease, get some good pictures so you can do the detective work during a snowstorm this winter.
The flower gardens
Annuals should be at their best right about now and are probably carrying the color in the late summer garden. It’s fine to give them a fertilizer boost right now. You can also fertilize tropical blooming container plants like hibiscus or mandevilla that you plan on bringing inside for the winter. However don’t fertilize perennials in the garden, even late blooming ones, as this often causes new growth which won’t harden off properly for winter. Don’t fertilize foliage houseplants summering outside now either. Annuals may need some trimming and deadheading (removing dead flowers), to keep them looking nice, especially those in containers.
Don’t forget to keep containers and baskets watered as we get into cooler weather- unless we have a lot of fall rain. Sometimes plants in poorly draining containers can get waterlogged and the roots will rot as the weather gets cooler. Water doesn’t evaporate moisture out of the pots as quickly as before. Feel the soil in containers and baskets before watering.
New shrubs and trees can be planted in the garden in the fall. Some perennial flowering plants also do well with fall planting. You can divide and move your crowded perennials now too. It’s time to order and plant spring blooming bulbs. If you order or shop in a store early you get the best selection and your bulbs will have more time to adjust to their new home.
Clean up flowerbeds and weed them one last time before a hard frost hits. Whether you cut back dead or soon to be dead foliage is a personal choice except for a few things such as mums, which should not be cut back before next spring. Some things like ornamental grasses, hydrangea, sunflower, rudbeckia, echinacea and other seed heads can be left for either winter interest or for the birds to eat the seeds.
Dig up tender bulbs such as dahlias, glads and cannas after the foliage has been killed by frost, but before a hard freeze. If you can give them a day or two in a warm sunny dry area to cure a bit before you pack them in damp wood shavings, peat moss, or sand they may store better. You may need to trim off some foliage and remove old withered bulbs before storage. Store these bulbs in a cool, dark place until spring. Don’t let them freeze.
You can add fresh mulch to beds and paths now in the cooler weather. If fall color is wanted you can buy some pots of mums, pansies or snapdragons to set on the porch or sink into the garden beds. Pansies will probably return in the spring if planted into the garden instead of being kept in pots. Mums will sometimes return if they are planted into the garden soon after purchase, but don’t count on it.
If you are a lawn person you’ll want to fertilize your lawn once more in early fall. This promotes healthy root systems. However mulching tree leaves into the lawn several times this fall as they fall is as good as fertilization, returning lots of nutrients to the soil. This is a much smarter and more environmentally friendly approach to lawn care.
Fall is a good time to lay sod, reseed or patch bare areas of lawn. Just make sure to keep the new lawn watered if the weather doesn’t cooperate. And before the snow comes make sure the lawn is mowed to about 3 inches. Longer grass will matt and often mold under a snow cover and is more susceptible to disease.
The vegetable garden
Keep harvesting your crops even if you are sick of tomatoes or zucchini. If you don’t want the produce maybe you can donate it to the neighbors or a food bank. Sometimes a senior citizen center will be happy to pass out your excess goodies. You can preserve your excess by canning or freezing it too.
Clean up veggie crops and beds as the harvest is finished. Remove the weeds too. This helps prevent weed seeds and disease in next year’s garden. If you have manure to use in the garden spread it now so it will break down before planting next year. Add compost, shredded leaves or straw to the garden after crops are harvested. If you have chickens or other poultry turn them loose into the garden when you are through harvesting crops. They’ll clean it up, fertilize and loosen the soil for you.
Of course if you are going to have a fall garden or plant cover crops you should get that done as soon as possible. If you are one of those people who want to dig root vegetables like carrots out of the garden deep into winter, get your mulch ready but don’t apply it until just before the ground freezes.
Clean up strawberry patches and get your mulch ready to cover them. Cover them just after the ground freezes. Put wire fence circles around young fruit tree trunks to keep rabbits from munching on them this winter.
Houseplants and tropical plants you over winter inside
Take a look at the houseplants and tropical plants you bring inside for the winter. Most of these plants need to be brought inside before the nights get below 40 degrees or before even a light frost occurs. Some of the more hardy plants such as geraniums and rosemary can be covered and survive light frosts, but must be brought inside before a freeze occurs.
If plants need to have insects like aphids or scale treated do it while they are still outside. Check the pots to see if they need cleaning or if plants need transplanting into larger pots and do that outside too. Decide where you will place plants inside and whether you need to add shelves or racks to hold them.
Some plants may need strategic pruning to make them look better or to make them fit inside. Some plants like pots of tuberous begonias, cane stemmed begonias or pineapple lilies will still be blooming nicely when brought inside but will die back naturally as the days get shorter. Just set the pots in a dim location and water very sparingly until about March. Then put them in stronger light and resume watering and they should begin to grow.
Some very large plants may be better saved by taking cuttings in late summer and bringing the smaller, newly rooted plants inside for winter. This includes coleus, sweet potato, cane begonias, geraniums, aloe, large non-hardy succulents, and some vining plants used in containers.
If you don’t have houseplants or tender plants to over winter inside –well now is the time to get them. Every house needs some houseplants to keep winter bearable and to give gardeners something to do. You may want to get some bulbs like narcissus in early November for forcing in the winter. Spring bulbs can be planted in pots and kept in a place like an unheated garage, (watered occasionally) where they can be retrieved and brought inside in January or February for early spring blooms.
Here are some additional articles you may want to read.
Should you have a fall vegetable garden?
How to plant bulbs
Saving tender perennials over winter indoors.
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