Here are some fall dos and don’ts, plus tips to help your garden get a jump-start on spring. Here at MommyMatter, we are preparing ourselves for a long winter, which means preparing our gardens the right way. Check out all our tips for fall gardening now.
As autumn leaves drift by your window, it may be tempting to look outside and think idle thoughts about nature taking care of itself. But like the rest of us, Mother Nature needs a good kick in the pants once in a while. Here are some fall dos and don’ts, plus tips to help your garden get a jump-start on spring.
- When available, pop ‘Icicle’ pansies into spots where summer annuals have been cleared out. They will bloom until December, then lie down for the winter. Cover them with evergreen cuttings until earliest spring, when they’ll be ready to sprout new flower buds.
- Leaves are garden gold. Spread small leaves of trees, such as honeylocust, birch, beech, ginkgo and silver maple (or shredded large Norway maple leaves), under shrubs and over all exposed soil. They will degrade into mineral nutrients; worms will turn them into fertilizer.
- Take a gamble and throw seeds of hardy annuals where you want them to bloom next year. Larkspur, poppies, cleome and cosmos will frequently take root from seeds sown in autumn and conditioned under winter snow.
- Plant bulbous Asiatic and Oriental lilies in late fall to ensure flower bud set. When planting is delayed until spring they may not get enough chilling and come up blind, with no flowers.
- Wait until the soil has frozen before mulching autumn-installed plants. After freeze-up, a thick mulch of leaves and evergreen cuttings will keep their root balls safe from the heaving action of frost.
- Lift big, fibrous clumps of summer phlox, hostas and Siberian irises and divide with a sharp spade or knife; tease apart fleshy roots of daylilies. Late-blooming perennials such as Michaelmas daisies and obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana), purchased in bloom, can go directly into garden beds (see #5).
- Plant garlic in October, in a sunny spot with lots of manure dug in. Set individual cloves eight centimeters deep and 15 centimeters apart, and mulch with five to eight centimeters of leaves. Hard-neck Rocambole garlics such as ‘Music’ are the hardiest strains, and, when planted in October, can be harvested in July, just as the first cherry tomatoes turn red.
- Autumn is a good time for planting evergreen trees and shrubs. The evergreens’ root systems pump water all winter, so be sure to water them well before the ground freezes. And don’t hesitate to purchase deciduous flowering shrubs at discounted prices. Even after a summer in containers, they’ll adapt and make strong root growth in cool autumn soil.
- Autumn is the only time to move clematis or honeysuckle vine to prevent shock to growth: both vines begin extending leaves and shoots while frost is still in the spring ground. If the vines are large, cut them back by half, and they’ll leap forward next spring.
- Use generous amounts of anti-transpirant sprays (available at garden centers) on needle evergreens and broadleaf evergreens, such as euonymus, Japanese pieris and rhododendrons. The waxy coating helps to preserve tissue moisture and prevent winter windburn and sunscald. And lavish it on your Christmas tree to help keep it fresh through the holidays.
- Root vegetables such as carrots and parsnips are sweeter after hard frost and can be harvested all winter. Remove top foliage from the plants and cover them with a 15-centimeter-thick mulch of leaves or straw (available from garden centers) spread to similar thickness. Throw an old piece of carpeting on top and let it snow. Lift the coverings to dig out veggies as needed.
- Tender hybrid teas, floribunda and grandiflora roses need hilling up about 25 centimeters above their crowns with fresh soil or triple mix. A simple trick that reaps armloads of rose blooms is to tie the flexible new canes of climbing roses in a horizontal arc along fences or trellises. This will trigger the breaking and blooming of many more buds next summer.
- As for garden hygiene, pick up or rake diseased leaves from under roses (blackspot) and crabapples (scab) and dispose of them in the garbage, not the compost pile. Left on the soil all winter, they’ll reinoculate the plants with disease spores the following spring.
- Squirrels “read” the disturbed soil and marks you leave when planting their favorite tulips and crocuses. Outwit them by concentrating spring bulb plantings in large groups and disguising your marks by flooding the soil surface with water. Then cover them with five centimeters of leaves topped with some shrubby branches.
- Remove the debris of summer annuals, then be honest with yourself: will you really go out in early spring to remove remaining perennials? Clean up as much as possible now, leaving strategic clumps for attractive winter display and food for birds. Sedums, hostas, astilbes and ornamental grasses are beautiful in snow.
- Unless you really are Snow White, try not to create a garden of little winter dwarfs all wrapped up in burlap coats. Tightly wrapped burlap does plants more harm than good by potentially holding ice against their tissues. To protect them from wind or household dryer vent emissions, set up stake-and-burlap barriers, fastened with diaper pins, to break air currents.