September is the gardener’s benchmark for new season, the time for getting garden ready for Fall. Whether you are in the cold reaches of Michigan, or the incessantly warm days of the never-ending Texas summer. Of course, in the north you are better suited to use the entirety of September to your advantage, because the seasons change definitively and without remorse.
In the South, however, you never quite know when fall will decide to stop by, stay a few days- maybe a week- then decide it needs another month to really get “summer” out of it’s bones just in time for Thanksgiving… perhaps even Christmas. (Yes, I have been sunbathing on Christmas day here in Texas…)
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Getting Garden Ready for Fall, What does that mean?
With the uncertainty of Southern summer/fall transitions, I find it best to err on the side of caution and prepare as if Fall is on an actual timetable that you can set your watch by.
That way, if you’re right, you have done all that needs to be done, and no worries! If Autumn decides it wants to just sit this year out and wait until next year to arrive at all, you’ve at least gotten a head start on the winter garden prep… so there’s that.
Here is a list of things to check off the list in order to prepare your garden for the fall.
Pull Dead Plants
With all the gorgeous annuals out there, it’s no wonder we often find ourselves over-estimating our resilience at times when it comes to the wide variety of blooms and foliage available to us.
When the dead-heading and pruning becomes overwhelming, there is the inevitable mourning of the dried and withered plants that either did not last the hot dry summer, or were doomed by the incessant return of busy schedules of the return of the school year.
Clearing these dried and dead plants might seem overwhelming at first, but once you get the process started, it is often the case that it was worse in your mind than it was in reality. The typical protection of gloves, longer sleeves and, depending on the situation, protective eyewear are all good tips for the unpredictable melee of wind and woebegone blooms, leaves and seeds.
Remove Diseased Plants and Foliage
There is always the potential that fall weather has brought highly anticipated rain to your part of the world, but with the rains come the return of many a fungus, pest and disease.
Some of these formerly healthy plants and foliage needs to be trimmed back or completely removed for the overall health of the garden.
Though we loathe to see the fullness of the summer months wane, the cutting back of unhealthy plant parts usually ends up with a second wind of sorts in the mild months of autumn. Even if a plant happens to be one that does not really bounce back until spring, cutting it back in the early fall will give it the needed time to recover and heal before going dormant for the winter only to bounce back beautifully in the spring.
Trim Back Perennials That Have Gone Dormant
Some Perennials won’t give you a second bloom or even a single new stem of growth during the fall months, but I still recommend looking into the timeframes of your plants to ensure that you aren’t waiting too long (or starting too early) to get your pruning done to ensure your spring growth meets (or hopefully exceeds) your expectations!
Another option that you might have with some perennials is the option to divide them. Not all perennials do well with division, or are even capable of propagation in that manner.
If you happen to have one that is ready and capable, however, the early fall is a good time to get this done. This gives the plant more time to heal and re-establish any root systems that might have been damaged or need to grow after the split.
Plant Bulbs for Early Spring
It happens every spring. I start to see the blooms of early spring pop up and think to myself, “I should have planted some of those last fall!”
The early bloomers are often the envy of gardeners everywhere, because however much we love witnessing the growth of life in our burgeoning gardens, those early spring blooms make it feel like the waiting isn’t as tedious. Check our your local nursery, garden store or online flower spot right now to grab some good bulbs to help spring arrive early next year!
Stake Young trees, Prepare for Winter
With young trees, prevention is your best friend. Many a young tree has been lost to autumn winds and early winter cold snaps. I, along with many a gardener/farmer swear by the farmer’s almanac. Keeping an eye on your local weather and having the necessary items on hand to prevent fall/winter damage to growing trees can save a lot of heartache and prevent arboreal catastrophe ahead of time.
With winter on the horizon, getting a good turn of the soil helps to get the microbes primed and ready for the next growing season before their necessity can lead to disappointment.
When left to sit, soil can get stagnant and is a breeding ground for disease, pests and fungus. This can also allow some of those spring and summer seeds from the stray weed or two get exposed to sunlight, only to sprout too late, be easily identified, and pulled before the spring time has a chance to make it a nuisance.
Gardens like to fatten up a bit before the winter months too… it’s not just bears and my waistline. Adding a little compost to your current garden soil in the fall can give perennials that little boost of sustenance to get them through the winter months with a supercharged boost of growth in the spring. Keeping your soil healthy is one of the best ways to keep a low-maintenance garden just that- low maintenance. Make sure you check to see what kind of plants like more acidic soils and which like more alkaline. This can effect the type of compost you use, as well as the frequency.
Clean/Store Garden Tools and Equipment
When tools and equipment sit for an extended period of time without being properly cleaned, you can end up pulling them out months later only to find they’ve been ravaged by rust or have become damaged beyond your capacity to repair.
This can be an expensive and frustrating occurrence, and so properly cleaning and storing garden/outdoor tools and equipment is not something you want to overlook. Don’t forget to drain gasoline or other liquids that can turn when left to sit in tanks.
Prepare New Beds for Spring
It might seem strange to prepare Spring beds in the fall, but allowing the natural decomposition of some good compost and settling of the soil into the beds through autumn and winter can end up giving your spring growth a super-charge, and actually make spring maintenance much easier. For more information and tips on getting a new garden set up, check out our article on Learning How and When to Start Gardening.
Provide Lawns with High Potassium Winterizer
Winterizing is something that helps to toughen the tissues of the plant in order to help protect from winter freezes.
One of the key methods of protecting your lawn from both freezes as well as annual weed-seed germination, is to ensure you use Potassium, not Nitrogen. (Nitrogen, along with Carbon, are the two key components in good compost.)
Not everyone has or includes their lawn in their gardening routines, but having good info on how to maintain and promote healthy lawns will have a big impact on the overall health of the soil surrounding/near your garden beds. Plus, who doesn’t love the look/feel of a well maintained lawn?
Mow Fallen Leaves (Until Too Thick for Mower)
One of the best things for your lawn (and most plants) is good and composted leaf litter. With the breezy days of fall starting to shake loose the first leaves off the trees, simply mowing over them gives the lawn a nice boost right before the dormant months of winter.
There comes a time, however, when the leaf cover on the ground makes mowing over them dangerous for your mower. Until then, save yourself the trouble of raking before mowing and just run over that free flying foliage.
Prep New Compost Pile
In the early months of Autumn, some gardeners give their garden a good feeding from the compost that has been hard at work breaking down into that black gold during the warm summer months. With the depletion of the compost pile, this can be an opportune time to make use of the relatively empty space of the compost pile, and move it to a new location.
Perhaps your garden has developed over the year and a better location has presented itself. Perhaps the current location just isn’t serving your needs like it used to. Perhaps you just feel like taking advantage of the nutrient-dense ground that has been cultivated over the past year and decide to convert the current spot to a new garden bed. Whatever the reason, moving your compost pile in the fall is, in my opinion, one of the best times.
If you have trees nearby to your new compost location, make sure to put down a tarp or other barrier that will prevent the roots from attempting to grow up into the pile. (This can cause issues later on with the trees.) Otherwise, collecting pesticide/chemical/disease-free bags of leaves from neighbors will give you a head start on getting your new compost pile started. Don’t forget: if you want more info on composting, check out our article on the subject here.
Clean Rain Barrels/Gutters
For those of us who like to take as much advantage of mother nature’s gifts as possible, rain barrels are a staple of the self-sufficient gardener. The dry summer months tend to make quite a dent in the reservoir set aside for our gardens, and with the low levels, this makes early autumn the perfect time to give them a good cleaning.
Before the fall storms hit, cleaning out the rain barrels and gutters prevents the growth of harmful bacteria and algae that can wreak havoc on your rain-water collection systems, and your garden too, if left unchecked. Giving your system a good scrub at least once a year is the best way to keep it operating properly, and your garden thriving.
Prepare Potted Plants to be Brought Inside for Overwintering
There is a lot more to over-wintering potted plants than just bringing them inside. There are several things you can do in order to ensure that your container garden not only survives, but thrives through the winter months inside.
Flushing the soil gets rids of excess buildup of minerals and nutrients that can be damaging to the plants. Container plants that are not exposed to regular rainfall don’t get exposed to the periodic flushing of the soil that keeps that build up in check.
Flushing the soil can be achieved by doing several watering’s a few mins apart. Removing any diseased or damaged foliage or blooms and then spraying both the top and underside of any remaining healthy foliage with clean, clear and distilled water will help to remove spider mites or other hidden pests before bringing plants inside. Adding mulch will help to reduce the gnat population. (No matter how we try, some gnats are often unavoidable.)
Getting Garden Ready for Fall – Conclusion
No matter if you are preparing for your outdoor garden to endure the elements, or bringing your container garden inside to avoid the perils of winter, following these tips will help to ensure your plants get through the winter.
(Your plants aren’t the only thing you have to worry about though, so don’t neglect your soil and your compost pile!) Getting “Garden Ready”: Fall will ensure the winter won’t push all your garden plans back to the bare earth.
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