As summer turns into fall, the garden can seem to fade into the background. But there is still a lot of action underground, so now is not the time to rest.
To start, your plants still need water. Although their thirst decreases as temperatures cool, perennials, trees, and shrubs in colder regions actually need extra water in early fall to help them get ready (and out). successfully) from dormancy.
In cooler areas, plant pansies for a splash of fall color. They will die back during the winter but will bloom again next spring until the summer heat drives them in. In warmer areas, pansies will continue to do well as long as winter temperatures don’t exceed 80 degrees.
Also add other seasonal bloomers to the garden or containers. Chrysanthemums, asters, and colored ornamental cabbage and cabbage are good choices.
You can also start planting bulbs. In areas that experience winter frosts, that means hardy plants like tulips, grape hyacinths, daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths, snowdrops and snow glory. In the South, think amaryllis, caladiums, calla lilies, cannas, daffodils, dahlias, elephant ears, gladioli and tuberous begonias.
Those gardening in the southernmost regions of the United States, such as southern Texas and Florida, can plant another round of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.
There is no need to uproot declining crops if they are still producing. Take what you can until they die on their own, then clear the beds of plant debris.
Planting a cover crop like clover or rye in vacant vegetable beds will help suppress weeds, control erosion and add nutrients to the soil. In the spring, just turn the soil and plant your next garden. However, avoid using legume cover crops in beds where you plan to grow legumes like beans or peas.
Toss diseased plants in the trash and start a compost heap with healthy plant parts. Create layers of fresh materials like kitchen scraps of fruits and vegetables, grass clippings, weeds that haven’t gone to seed, coffee grounds, cornstarch packing peanuts, manure from horse and rabbit and bird droppings. Alternate them with dry items like leaves, twigs, shredded paper and straw (never include kitty litter, dog poo, grease, meat, dairy or other products of animal origin).
To speed up decomposition, sprinkle a little nitrogen on each layer and keep the pile slightly moist, turning it over occasionally with a pitchfork. From next summer, you will be able to enrich your soil with “black gold”.
To prepare for spring planting, test your soil’s pH now and add amendments like lime, if indicated, and compost, which will go deep into the soil over winter.
Avoid fertilizing anywhere except the South, where some lawns may benefit from an early fall application of a slow-release product. But follow local fertilizer restrictions to protect the ecosystem and avoid waste (and, potentially, fines). During the southern rainy season, for example, nitrogen is likely to be washed through the soil into groundwater; in the north, cold temperatures prevent the absorption of fertilizers, which can also seep into groundwater.
Both scenarios pollute our precious resources and waste money because unabsorbed fertilizer won’t benefit your lawn or plants anyway.
Southern gardeners should feed citrus now, but not in rainy weather. Use a slow-release product to provide long-lasting nutrients and prevent leaching and runoff.
Rejuvenate the lawn, but aerate it first. Sow once a week and water lightly daily until it reaches 3 inches in height.
Transplant and divide spring and early summer perennials and ground covers, but don’t disturb late-season blooms until spring.
Fall is a good time to plant trees and shrubs. In cold areas, it’s best to wait until the trees in your area lose their leaves. Water well and apply mulch.
Cool season crops, such as beets, radishes, green vegetables and broccoli, can now be planted in many temperate climates.
Finally, do your future self a favor and keep the weeds in check. Pulling them out by their roots before they set seed will greatly reduce their numbers next year.
You will thank yourself in the spring.
Jessica Damiano regularly writes gardening columns for The Associated Press. His gardening calendar was named the winner of the 2021 Garden Communicators International Media Awards. His weekly newsletter Dirt won a 2021 PCLI Media Award from the Society of Professional Journalists. Sign up here for weekly gardening tips and tricks.
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