The Garden in Fall
It’s time to rake leaves and put the garden to bed.
Now that we’ve been spending so much of our time at home, many of us have taken up home-based activities like cooking, baking, woodworking and gardening. Gardening is a rewarding and even healing activity, and also gives us the benefit of fresh-picked food, beautiful flowers and soothing greenery, not to mention time spent in the fresh air instead of in front of a screen. It can also be a source of gentle exercise. Pulling weeds and cutting off old, faded blossoms from the plants in your garden is rewarding. The plants look better for it, and the repetition of such a simple activity lets your mind rest, and worries recede, at least for a while. Here are some things to do in your garden and landscape this fall.
First, water deeply when the weather is dry. And especially, make sure your shrubs and other permanent plants are well watered as the weather cools before they go into dormancy for the winter. Lay fresh mulch in garden beds and borders. Have the hedges trimmed. Watch for signs of pests and diseases. Fertilize and aerate the lawn if it wasn’t done in spring. Keep the lawn mowed as needed.
If you have a flower garden, take time to remove old faded flowers. Don’t just snip off the flowerhead. On a bushy plant, cut back the stem to the nearest set of leaves, or cut the stems back to their base if the stems are long and straight. If your garden includes lilies, cut them back to the ground when the stalks die back. Plan ahead for flowers next spring by planting bulbs of daffodils, crocuses, and tulips if deer are not present on your property. Plant pansies, too — many local nurseries and garden centers sell them in fall, and fall-planted pansies often bloom again in early spring.
When impatiens and other annual flowers (that don’t survive over winter) die back, pull them and, if they’re not damaged by pests or disease, put them on the compost pile. Clean up the garden beds and borders. Add some compost to the soil.
In the herb garden, cut stems of plants like thyme, oregano, tarragon and basil to dry for winter use; parsley loses much of its flavor when dried. The best time to harvest herbs for drying is late morning, just before noon when volatile oils that give herbs their flavor are a maximum concentration. Hot afternoon sun will draw out some of the oils. Tie the stems in bunches and hang in a warm, dark place to dry — I use my attic.
If you have a rose garden, water when the weather is dry. Watch for signs of pests and disease and take action if you notice damage. Pick up any fallen leaves. Fertilize roses one last time six weeks before the average date of the first fall frost. If you plan to add some new roses to your garden, dig planting holes for them, and plant them when the weather cools.
If you have rhododendrons, boxwood or other broad-leaved evergreens, spray them with an antidesiccant product to protect them from drying winter winds.
For vegetable gardeners, it’s time to clean up the garden when the plants finish producing. If you grew pumpkins or winter squash, harvest them before the first frost. Take down trellises and stakes, clean and store them for next year. Spread compost in empty parts of the garden.
Fall can be a time for planting, too. You can plant ornamental grasses and groundcovers, as well as new trees and shrubs. Be sure to water new plants regularly if we don’t get rain.
When it’s time to rake fall leaves, if you have kids be sure to leave the piles around for a while for jumping into. Better yet, get the kids to help rake and re-rake the piles for more jumping.
When the garden is put to bed, you can start thinking about what new plants to add to your landscape next year.