Now that you have planted your fall vegetable garden, are enjoying the last of your summertime veggies, and are ready to relax in the cooler days of autumn, there are still a few things you might want to do before winter sets in.
Fall is the best time to look for bargains at your local garden centers and hardware stores. Take an inventory of your garden tools. Many stores slash prices in the fall months to move unsold stock and make room for Christmas stuff. Besides tools, you can get good deals on fertilizers and other chemicals, even seeds, fruit trees and flowering shrubs.
Fall is the best time of the year to plant new trees and shrubs. The soil is still warm enough for the roots to grow, but the air isn’t so hot that it stresses the foliage. Survival rates are always better for woody plants set out in the fall. Newly planted trees and shrubs won’t need as much water in the fall and winter. Just be sure they get about an inch of water per week (whether from rain or supplemental watering) while the nighttime temperatures are still above freezing.
Fall is the season to plant many of our spring flowering bulbs. Tulips, daffodils, crocuses, irises, hyacinths and various alliums are among the bulbs that should be set out in the fall of the year. A general rule of thumb for fall planting bulbs is to get them in 4-6 weeks before you expect the ground to freeze. If you take the time now, you will be well rewarded next spring!
Fall is the time to plant wildflower seeds, too. Many of our native wildflowers require a period of cool weather before they germinate in spring. Prepare a bed for your wildflowers by removing weeds and debris, then rake the soil, leaving little furrows where seeds can lodge. Broadcast the seeds and rake again lightly. Water.
Fallen leaves are a gardener’s friend. Don’t burn those leaves that you raked off the lawn. Use them as mulch around trees and shrubs, in your flower beds, and in the vegetable garden. You can spread the leaves out as they are, or you could shred them first by running the lawn mower over them. Shredded leaves will decompose faster, are less prone to blow away, and will settle down sooner to form a protective blanket. (But whole leaves are still better than no leaves!) Pine needles are just as good as hardwood leaves. Plus, they do not (as some mistakenly believe) cause the soil to become acidic. You probably can get leaves from your neighbors who would be happy to have you haul them away.
If you aren’t going to use the lawn mower any more this year, now’s the time to drain the fuel or at least add some gasoline stabilizer to it. Now is the time to sharpen blades and garden tools. Wipe a thin layer of oil on the metal parts so they won’t rust during winter storage.
Don’t fertilize your plants in fall. We don’t want to stimulate them to start new growth that will surely be damaged by freezing weather come winter. Plants will become dormant in the winter and will not use the added nutrients then anyway. The fertilizer will just seep into the ground, and contribute to groundwater pollution.
Do not prune in the fall. Pruning often stimulates new growth, and we don’t want that during freezing temperatures. Wait until trees and shrubs are fully dormant before pruning. A good rule of thumb is to prune trees in the dead of winter, prune summer blooming shrubs in late winter or early spring. Prune shrubs that bloom in early spring after they finish flowering.
You can remove the dead above-ground parts of returning perennials now, or you can wait. Leaving them until spring may be unsightly, but that old dry vegetation can provide cover for wintering birds. Lingering seeds and insects are welcome food for our feathered visitors. Also, if you leave some old stalks, you’ll know where those perennials are when you start planting new flowers next spring.
Most important of all, this fall: Enjoy the fruits (and flowers) of your labor!